Studying and working in engineering is challenging by default – the academically rigorous field takes brain power and discipline. Women in engineering can face even more challenges because there are significantly fewer in the classroom and the workplace. Add child-rearing to the mix and the term “super mom” takes on a new, elevated meaning.
The featured “super moms” of the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science work here or have studied here, and one is graduating this week. Each has faced unique challenges in meeting workplace demands while raising children, but one quality is universal among them: all desire to show their children by example that anything is possible through hard work and determination.
Shirley Mulero, ’15 – New Alumna
Her job: Senior in mechanical engineering (graduating this week) and working as a mechanical hydraulic engineering intern. She will pursue a master’s degree in the fall.
Her children: One daughter, 5; one son, 4
When engineering and children crossed paths: My son contracted a rare bacteria that caused him to have severe brain damage due to meningitis. Unfortunately, it occurred during my early college career. Understanding how to manage being a mom of a special needs child became really difficult to balance alongside the pursuit of an engineering degree. Learning successful time management was one of the most important lessons that year.
Most challenging aspect of being a working mom: Balancing both roles. Sometimes I found myself dedicating more time to the engineering student role and less time in my mother role.
Advice for maintaining work-family balance: Learn your strengths. We all operate in different rhythms, and we each have to find our best qualities. I work best by setting realistic goals that must be completed by a deadline that I give to myself. Also plan for setbacks that might happen along the way. For example, when I have to take an unexpected trip to the doctor’s office because my child has developed a fever and I have a certain goal I need to finish. Taking such things into account allows me to plan for inconvenience and incorporating “plan Bs.”
What she hopes being an engineering mom will teach her children: As cliché as it sounds, I want to show them through example that with the help of God and hard work anything is possible. To be the best you can possibly be through hard work is the best legacy I can incorporate into my children.
Seetha Raghavan, Ph.D. – Faculty
Her job: Associate professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She specializes in aerospace structures and materials, leads a research team, teaches undergraduate and graduate engineering classes, and mentors.
Her children: Two sons, 16 and 13
When engineering and children crossed paths: I had my two sons while I was a senior engineer at an aerospace company in Singapore. My first son was born after I returned from getting a master’s degree in Toulouse, France; and my second before I embarked on my Ph.D. at Purdue University. When the kids were young, I had a fast-paced career, designing and executing structural upgrades for fighter aircraft in Singapore and Brazil, leading teams for structural repair of damaged aircraft in Australia and Bahrain, and participating in the assessment of fighter aircraft in Russia.
Most challenging aspect of being a working mom: You become a master at multitasking and you deal with the challenges innovatively, like you would an engineering problem – I could tell you (barring hazardous material restrictions and curious customs officers) that five pounds of dry ice can safely transport 30 bags of breastmilk back on a 12-hour flight when you have a work trip away from your baby.
The challenge is the perception from others who are not involved in parenting that you cannot possibly be as effective. As a mom/parent, it’s a challenge not to be patronized and to be given opportunities just like everyone else. However, parenting makes you extremely effective in time management and managing multiple projects. It is unimaginably rewarding and builds your character like nothing else can.
Advice for maintaining work-family balance: There is nothing like teamwork to solve the biggest engineering challenges. Always build on the support system that your family and friends provide to help you move forward in achieving your career and family goals. Retain your individuality but remember that time with your family is a priceless finite gift – use it to make the most amazing memories.
What she hopes being an engineering mom will teach her children: My kids were with me all the way through my experiences in a fast-paced industry career, as a graduate student at Purdue and now as a professor at UCF. They saw the struggles and failures (and there were many) that came with getting to be where I wanted; how I set goals and persevere to achieve them; and the passion that I have for what I do. It’s amazing how sometimes when I forget this, they are right there to remind me. They have become my best advisors and friends.
Andrea Santos-Garcia – Student
Her job: Doctoral student, electrical engineering, and research assistant in the Central Florida Remote Sensing Laboratory.
Her children: One daughter, 3 (a “Littlest Knight” at the UCF Creative School for Children).
When engineering and children crossed paths: My husband is also a doctoral student in electrical engineering. In my first year of the doctorate program, we decided to start the big commitment of being parents.
Most challenging aspect of being a working mom: Every stage in motherhood has different challenges, but the most challenging process was during the first year, because my daughter was getting sick very frequently and I was very worried about my little one and feeling guilty all the time to the point that I was about to quit the PhD. But the constant support of my husband and family encouraged me to keep going and show my daughter that I can be a responsible mom and also a woman in research that just sleeps a little less than the average.
Advice for maintaining work-family balance: Part of me wants to keep working without stopping and another just wants to be the lovely, dedicated mother and wife that my family deserves. Fortunately, I have a wonderful husband and we’ve developed a nice balance. We distribute the home assignments, and organize our time to enjoy family time. We try to do different family activities when we can. Also we support each other depending on who is having more work load during the week. Working as a team is very important, and it’s been working for us.
What she hopes being an engineering mom will teach her children: I hope to show her by example that it is good to dream and that it is necessary to be persistent to accomplish those dreams. Also, that girls and boys are equally strong and capable of doing amazing things, and to remember that when they become moms or dads, having successful careers does not excuse them from the big challenge of educating good human beings for the next generation.
Susan Gaines – Student
Her job: Doctoral student, industrial engineering.
Her children: Two sons, one daughter (in their 20s)
When engineering and children crossed paths: I had my first child when I was working for Hitachi Chemical Electro-products in the Atlanta area, first as a production controller, then information systems manager. I had to go to Japan for two weeks when I was five-months pregnant with my first son to get funding for a computer system to be implemented at our Atlanta factory and U.S. sales offices. I worked until right before I had my second son, when we moved to Miami.
Most challenging aspect of being a working mom: It was hard to leave my son at daycare every day. It was also hard to hold boundaries with not staying at the office too late, because I wanted to see my son, but I also wanted to do a good job.
Advice for maintaining work-family balance: Set really clear boundaries for work and family time. Do not miss the important things with your kids for work. Be present with your family when you are there. Getting to work earlier than the majority of others helps give you time to accomplish tasks before the craziness of the day begins, and also allows you to leave the office a little earlier.
What she hopes being an engineering mom will teach her children: I went back to UCF to get my master’s in industrial engineering after being a stay-at-home mom for many years. At home I tried to teach my children that learning should be a lifelong endeavor. Going back to school has taught my kids that I am walking the walk and that I am not finished yet. I still have many gifts and talents that I can contribute and make a difference, and they should always use their gifts to the best of their abilities.
Evelise Teixeira, ’14 – Alumna
Her job: Mechanical design engineer at Embraer, a company that builds aircraft.
Her children: Two sons, 12 and 8; one daughter, 10
When engineering and children crossed paths: I decided that as soon as my youngest got into school I would go back to college. My youngest child was 5 when I went back to school. It was hard to juggle between school, family and job. At the time, I was a banquet server. But today I know I did not only set a great example for my children, but also got the opportunity to work in the field that I’ve always wanted.
Most challenging aspect of being a working mom: The most challenging aspect is time management. While at work I have a system to control my time for each assignment. At home things can get unpredictable; there are school projects, soccer practices, music lessons. But at the end of the day, everything gets done and we go on for the next day.
Advice for maintaining work-family balance: Make your family your number-one priority, your breakthrough project, and let your boss know your family morals and values — it will show your dedication and loyalty.
What she hopes being an engineering mom will teach her children: I hope it teaches my children that success follows hard work, faith and dedication.