Aixa López P.E, an Innovator and pioneer, Latinas in STEAM
The well-documented shortage of women in science and technology has stood as both a challenge and a motivator to Aixa Lopez, whose personal journey to success in the segment of the economy known as STEAM (science, technology, electronics, art and math) is a case study in perseverance, even courage.
“Know your fear, prepare to face it, push yourself and go for it,” she says in a sort of mantra that has been her personal roadmap to getting where she is today– Marketing Business Development Manager of Robinson Aerial Surveys, a company that offers engineering and surveying services, along with aerial photography and mapping.
It took hard work, unexpected obstacles and the all-too-familiar condescension that so many women endure in industries dominated by men to achieve a professional status that is comparable to any other licensed Professional Engineer (PE). How did a young girl from Puerto Rico catch the engineering bug?
“Since I was a child, I loved reading about how things were made and how things worked,” she recalls. “I was always fascinated by my father’s expertise fixing things. I liked assembling and making things work.”
When it came time to choose a career, a social worker handed her a course guide for the local university and the words industrial engineering jumped out at her.
“I fell in love with it,” she says. “I liked that this field combined processes, systems, human resources and money with the goal of optimizing functionality. It made me curious that something like that existed.”
Lopez was taught from an early age that education was the golden key to the door of opportunity. Her mother, driven and determined, completed her Master’s in Education and Management while working full-time as a teacher, taking care of the house and family and holding a number of side jobs. Her father, a police officer, was a staunch supporter of her mother’s endeavors. Thus, it was ironic that young Aixa’s passion for engineering would find resistance from not only her mother but from a community that felt engineering was not for women.
Lopez’s grandmother, determined to not fail her granddaughter’s drive and passion, opened an account in which each of Lopez’s aunts and uncles were asked to deposit $25 every month to help pay for her dorm fees. Lopez said, “I confirmed that day that I was doing the right thing and was going to push myself to accomplish it for my family and myself.”
Today, Lopez’s career as a Licensed Professional Engineer spans 24+ years of experience and has led her to supervise over 400 people in an array of industries.
“Always take the time to listen to people and to get to know them on a personal level,” she says of her management style.
But she didn’t always display the assertiveness required to be an effective manager. It pained her to remember the time when she was 21 and her boss told her, “you are so shy that nobody in this company, except your employees, knows who you are.” It embarrassed her, but opened her eyes to the reality that “you don’t always have to comply with the cookie-cutter stereotype of what others expect you to be.”
Mentoring is important to girls who strive to become professional women in STEAM because, in Lopez’s mind, they need to hear first-hand from other women about what’s really required to be successful.
“I was never told what I was going to endure once I graduated,” she recalled. Lopez wants to see more efforts made educating girls on how to deal, in an assertive way, with “the inappropriate comments, unacceptable behavior… that they will encounter.”
For the future women of STEAM, Aixa Lopez’s advice is simple.
“Do not let others define your career. Get up and show the world what you can do!”