What influenced you to choose industrial engineering and operations research? Were there any significant role models, family members, or figures who influenced this?
My interest in STEM began with my dad, who does not have a college degree but was a natural mathematician. When I was growing up, games with my family on car rides involved solving math problems or answering math trivia, not very typical of your average little girl. It was in this unique childhood experience that my dad’s passion for math paired with my passion for problem-solving and education and became a lifelong career.
I still have a passion for creatively solving problems and a love for math. Industrial Engineering (IE) is very special in this way, but not many people understand it. IE concerns the improvement of systems and processes, as well as the installation and integration of systems. I solve problems that help with decision-making in various settings. For example, when something fails, (it could be a product, a process, or a system) instead of simply “fixing it”, as industrial engineers we study why, how, and when it failed. After we identify those conditions, we create methods and approaches to clearly delineate how we can avoid something from failing again. In this way, it’s a natural extension of the scientific method.
What are three pieces of advice that you would give to a younger version of yourself?
- Understand your strengths and don’t focus on your weaknesses. If you put most of your energy into your strengths to become the best you can be, you’d be recognized for your unique abilities and consequently, your flaws will be mitigated.
- Have self-respect. It is not unusual to experience imposter syndrome, but it’s important to recognize it and when it happens, the antidote is to have self-respect and conviction. Know your worth and value your own contributions to the field, because they are impactful.
- Find time to help others. When we channel our energy to serve others, we grow, we learn, we become part of the circle of giving and we find purpose. Don’t wait to graduate to become a role model yourself.
Can you give an example of one of your greatest accomplishments in your career?
I’m very proud of having a career in higher education and academia. I am thankful that my parents invested and provided me with the best possible education. This positioned me to be accepted and eventually graduate from the best engineering university in Puerto Rico, and subsequently opened doors for me to pursue a doctoral degree in engineering.
Aside from my professional achievements, my biggest satisfaction comes from the opportunity to serve and educate the next generation of STEM professionals. To make contributions to the future of many students is a privilege. I am proud to teach at Florida’s only STEM-focused public institution, Florida Polytechnic University.
Are you currently engaged in any research projects or timely endeavors?
I serve as the director of the Health Systems Engineering (HSE) program. This program allows students to get involved in healthcare-related courses and research. The program is the first of its kind in the state of Florida, employing a multidisciplinary approach that applies engineering and analytic principles to all aspects of health care. The goal is to prepare students to take on the most urgent and complex challenges facing the health care industry.
I am also engaged in multiple research projects within the HSE program. One of them is a collaboration with AdventHealth to study the fitness of young adults through data collection via wearable devices and identifying factors that might indicate risks of hypertension. Another project is with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital identifying key factors that could help predict patients with higher probabilities for readmission.
Outside of the HSE program, I lead a grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Cultivating an Ethical Engineering Identity”. Our responsibility is not only to prepare skilled engineers but to make sure they are also ethically grounded. In the professional world, engineers ultimately have a duty to serve the public. Our hopes are to develop a successful program that could be replicated at universities across the nation to teach ethics at engineering and STEM schools and continue to shape well-rounded STEM professionals.