SPEND A FEW MOMENTS SPEAKING WITH SANDRA HERNANDEZ AND IT BECOMES OBVIOUS how passionate she is about electrical engineering. A recent graduate of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB; Long Beach, California, U.S.), Hernandez may be young, but her wealth of experience rivals that of engineers several years her senior. And like many in the industry, she is using her talents to encourage more people to consider a career in engineering.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Hernandez first noticed her proclivity for science and math during middle school, where she participated in the state's Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program.
“This led me to apply for a spot at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS),” she recalled. “CAMS is where I met my ‘angels,’ as I call them. They are the professors who encouraged me to pursue engineering.”
During her junior year of high school, Hernandez became heavily involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) robotics. Like many teens, however, she began to question her future career path.
“I fell in love with chemistry, and I also enjoyed the psychology classes I took,” she said. “When I was accepted to CSULB, I thought I wanted to become a doctor or psychologist. After one semester, I found I missed the hands-on work. I switched over to electrical engineering and have never regretted it.”
Furthermore, Hernandez never forgot her positive experiences with MESA and FIRST robotics, and decided to find a way to encourage young people to learn more about engineering. She accomplished this goal by joining CSULB's Society of Women Engineers.
“Twice a year, the society holds an event called Women Engineering at the Beach Day or WE@BD for short. The meeting brings together about 200 female elementary, middle and high school students from around the area for a one-day conference,” she explained. “Last year, my friend Bryant Trinh and I conducted a seminar on how to make motors. The motor was a simple one — just a battery with a wire spin — but we could tell the girls were excited.”
CSULB's WE@BD conference proved so successful that the National Society of Women Engineers honored the event with the Kimberly-Clark Outreach Event Award in October.
“I am proud to be part of this group,” said Hernandez. “Although it is not difficult for women to excel in engineering, I think it is harder for us to find encouragement to pursue this field. For example, there are currently only about five females in the upper-division electrical engineering department. So, if a program can influence young girls to become involved in engineering, math or science, then I believe I should help out.”
The new graduate also helps promote engineering through her involvement with the CSULB student IEEE, where she served as vice president last spring. According to Hernandez, this was one of her greatest challenges, because the university is a commuter school.
“Students are busy commuting, so it is hard to attract them,” she said. “To combat this, we held a regional Student-Professional Awareness Conference and had industry guest speakers every other week, which increased membership and involvement. I hope to carry out a professional awareness conference through the student chapter society of women engineers.”
She also hopes to continue her education at CSULB next spring, where she plans to earn her master's degree. With the state of California's economy, she is not sure this is feasible.
“Right now, the California State University system is not accepting new students for the spring semester due to a lack of funding,” she said. “I am still waiting to find out if they will take me in as a student next semester. In the meantime, I have started looking for a job.
In her free time, Hernandez enjoys reading science fiction books, taking photographs and participating in Micromouse — a design contest that brings together mechanical design, electrical design, controls and programming with the goal of building a maze-solving robot. Additionally, she works in a CSULB inorganic chemistry laboratory under the supervision of her mentor, Dr. Lijuan Li. Hernandez also participates in the RISE (Research Initiative for Science Enhancement) fellow program, which provides funding for research along with conference travel funding and mentors, such as Dr. Marco Lopez, who encourages students to pursue a Ph.D.
“I love working in the lab, because every time I go in, there is a new problem to solve or something for me to fix,” she said.
It is no surprise then that, after completing her education, Hernandez plans to go into research. She also would like to teach part time and mentor young people.
“It's important to me to give back to the community that has given me so much,” she said. “I also want to thank my mother, father and uncle, who is like a second father. They have worked very hard to get me where I am today. One of the best ways I can pay everyone back is to make something of myself.”