“When I was 13 years old, my father sat me down and said, ‘Mija, you need to take math and science every semester at school in order to get somewhere in life. You don’t have a choice with college; you have to go.’
Though it was never easy, following his advice has gotten me here: I am the principal engineer and president of my own engineering firm. Now, when I look at the industry in general, I see a need to transfer the experience and knowledge of veteran engineers to those coming up and to bridge the gap between education and the working world. I hope my story is one I can tell to inspire and empower the next generation.
I started my career designing bridges when the Northridge earthquake hit in Los Angeles. I remember working around-the-clock to help design the Interstate 5/14 interchange that fell in the midst of the disaster. I had always enjoyed solving problems in construction, and before I knew it, I was responsible for the construction, engineering, and inspection on the largest interchange in Los Angeles.
I then spent 10 years working on major interchanges in Southern California and 12 years on railroads. After leading the completion of two projects for the Alameda Corridor Transportation and Alameda Corridor East (ACE) Construction Authorities, I was asked to be senior project manager on ACE’s largest undertaking, the $498.5 million San Gabriel trench grade separation.
As my reputation was growing, I was asked to join AECOM (a technical and management support services provider) as the projects/operations director and vice president for the Western region of the United States. Managing more than 165 employees in the transportation market sector of the construction, engineering, management, and inspection division, I learned the basics of running a business from profit and loss to business development and marketing.
As it can happen in this industry, after a few years, I received a notice of reduction in force and was suddenly out of a job. Though at the time it felt like a major blow, it was the catalyst that inspired me to step out on my own. I decided to use my severance package to start RT Engineering.
RT Engineering & Associates is an architectural and engineering firm that primarily focuses on bettering communities by meeting their needs through transportation, water, and infrastructure projects. Right now, all of Southern California is being built up to match capacity needs for the 2030s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Looking ahead, we’re anticipating population growth, which translates into a need for more water, improved freeways, and increased transportation.
The existing infrastructure and its maintenance have been overlooked for far too long. Currently, large metropolitan areas in Southern California require capital improvement projects to give their cities face-lifts that will bring in more revenue and create family-friendly environments. There are billions of dollars being invested in the work we do. In just three years since our founding in 2011, we have successfully completed projects for the California Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, ACE Construction Authority, the Riverside County Transportation Department, County of San Bernardino Department of Public Works, and the City of Highland Department of Public Works. We have contributed construction engineering, utility coordination, environmental services, constructibility reviews, and value engineers.
As I get older, I see fewer and fewer students choosing engineering as their path, resulting in a widening gap between seasoned and junior engineers. There are few Latinos in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). There are even fewer Latinas. When I was in college, I was always the only woman in my engineering classes. It was intimidating and sometimes challenging. I had to work twice as hard to be recognized as a deserving student. Although I was quiet and shy by nature, college encouraged me to find my voice. I found strength I never knew I had.
Stemming from my experiences, I’m currently creating a LinkedIn group for mentoring and diversification in STEM. My intent is for this to be a place where I can encourage professors, students, and corporate engineering managers to participate in providing guidance and sharing information that will foster interest and achievement in the STEM fields.
As a woman and a Latina in this business, I still have to prove myself every day—even after 22 years of a proven track record for project delivery. I’ve been told by my peers that I’m relentless, a risk taker, humble, yet confident. I hope to impart to Latino and Latina students that it’s okay to step out into the unknown.”