Claudia Espinosa-Villegas, PhD
Lecturer, College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology (ECST)
Cal State University, Los Angeles
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Truthfully, I was inspired by the show Star Trek. I wanted to be the Science Officer for one of the Starships, preferably as Mr. Spock’s assistant. It was also one of the ways I learned English. Watching the show made me take my science studies more seriously, and as I grew up on the beach the decision to be an oceanographer was an easy one. While doing my undergraduate degree I became very interested in the issues regarding water pollution and also sustainability, which inspired me to continue my studies and get a doctorate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering (Iowa, ’08).
I grew up in Mexico, and we lived in an area that frequently had no power or running water. Many times my homework was done by the light of oil lamps. So that instilled a desire to get ahead and I knew getting an education was my best option. Everyone faces challenges; it’s how you respond to them that matters.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Currently I have a class that is designing a low-cost single occupancy home to be placed in an urban environment of a developed country. My students have decided to use cargo containers for their designs, and will be submitting their work to an international competition. It is exciting to see their creativity and what they come up with as they are not limited by what “should” be done.
Overall, the coolest was when I was a whale watching guide in an ecotourism camp in Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California Sur, Mexico. I met a lot of people while living in a 1 sq mile island that had solar power, sea-water enzyme compost toilets, solar water heaters, and no electronics. It was my first experience living such a green lifestyle and I loved it. Also touching the whales was an incredible experience. I can now say I have touched the belly button of a wild gray whale. :-p
U2, for inspiring me with their music and helping me become aware of social justice issues, and both my Abuelita (grandma) & Mom, who pushed me to succeed and get an education.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love seeing my students become aware of STEM related issues, and also when they realize that they truly have mastered material they thought was out of their league. I work primarily with traditionally underrepresented students, so being a role model and mentor is something I take very seriously. Teaching STEM is challenging, as you have to really know the material and be able to explain it so different people can understand. It also keeps you up to date, as keeping the material relevant is important so I am always learning about the subjects I teach so I can put the concepts from the textbooks into context for my students.
Advice for future STEMinists?
- Believe in yourself, and do not listen to anyone that tells you that you are not able/good enough.
- Find a mentor(s) and maintain the relationship(s), thank you letters go a long way.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help, it is an incredibly important skill to have and very hard to learn.
- Apply to everything no matter what it is: jobs, scholarships, workshops, internships, etc. Do not disqualify yourself from anything by thinking you are not good enough. Always apply!
- Learn to say NO and don’t apologize for it. Guys don’t sweat it, neither should you.
Favorite website or app:
I love Inhabitat for all things green, it is very easy to navigate. I really enjoy Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool contest as it shows how people can live in much smaller homes than what the average person has, and still be comfortable. It inspired me to move to a place that is about 360 square feet.