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STEMinist Profile: Tatiana Aires Tavares, Computer Science Professor / Researcher

Tatiana Aires Tavares

Computer Science Professor / Researcher

Federal University of Paraiba / SUNY Oswego

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Well, I was always a curious child. I liked to play with things I could create. For example, I remember that I loved to play playmobils with my cousin. We could create our own stories and toys. But I was really introduced to science in my high school. My lab classes were amazing to me. At the same time I was introduced to computing. A basic programming course in DBASE III taught me of things that I could create with a machine. I discovered that I could create in the machine variables, reserved words and programs. Wow! The result was my decision to pursue a degree in Computer Science (1998).

But it was not enough…my master’s degree in Computer Systems came soon after (2001). And then the PhD was the next step (2004). In the beginning a PhD in Electrical Engineering was a little scary, but before as I could imagine the “mission impossible” became a “mission accomplished.” I realized that I could have a career in science when I was at a university teaching science. I was surprised by my academic performance in science. It seemed like a Peter Pan experience; just like when I was a child, I could be curious and create things. Awesome!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It’s a hard question. Each research project that I have participated in during a decade career span (better forget the time!) was unique, special and a leading growing experience. In Computer Science, we define a project as a unique experience. And that is it! Each project has its own team, ideas, problems, technologies and solution. Computer scientists are always running after the best solutions.

An example of a good solution was ICSpace. ICSpace (or Internet Cultural Space) was a project that I worked on for almost 3 years. More than 20 people worked on this project: computer scientists, artists, engineers, educators. We created and built a virtual shared space. We put together robots, real visitors and avatars. The best result of this project was to teach that computing scientists could work in art galleries and think out of the box.

Talking about cool projects, I remembered the Arthron tool. Arthron was created and developed during GTMDA project. GTMDA project was supported and funded by RNP (Brazilian National Education and Research Network). This research project was also the first approved project coordinated by me. GTMDA involved a great team of professionals and students. The solution (Arthron) is used for artists to create their own plays. Arthron is a software that manipulates video streams used in telematic dance shows. Putting together computer scientists and artists was a singular experience. Sometimes the artists were programming while the programmers were dancing.

But, as computing scientists, we can do better than developing solutions, we can teach people how to create their own solutions. More than a social aspect – so important to digital inclusion at Brazil- this kind of project tests our capacity to multiply knowledge. And, science is made to be multiplied. Last year we worked in a poor community nearby the university at Joao Pessoa. Ms. Zeza is a special lady who takes care of the community children; she believes that studying is the best way to rescue children from poverty and drugs. We bought her idea; me and 8 computer science students introduced the computer to almost 40 children between 7 and 14 years old. It was a rich experience for everyone.

Role models and heroes:
I preferred a feminist heroine – Wonder Woman. The Wonder Woman who showed me that beauty, brains and strength can work together, and science needs all of them.

One of my role models was my undergraduate advisor, Ms. Eliane Diniz, who showed me that science is done with bravery and heart. Bravery to go beyond the classroom, to fight for improvements for all in difficult times; heart to feel how to extract what each one does best.

My PhD advisors, Mr. Lemos and Mr. Gonçalves, were my other role models; they showed me that science is done with hard work and passion (yeahhh!). Hard work to develop our own solutions for non trivial problems. Passion, because pleasure causes us to work hard.

Finally, my project partner, Ms. Zeza, showed me that science is altruistic. Science is done for the collective benefit to change society for the better.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Freedom is the first word that comes to my mind; freedom to think about things that most people don’t have the time to even consider. We can spend days, weeks, months or years making and answering our own questions. We can always change. Changes are always welcome! We can put together people to think with us because two heads are better then one! Working in STEM allows us to build our own creations and observe how the world appropriates it. It is a rich, interactive and fascinating process!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Working hard you can go far. It is really true. Enjoy Math, Physics and Logic! Look at the difficulties as great opportunities. Remember that challenges are always welcome. A mission that seems impossible with hard work, becomes a mission accomplished. Somewhere in time, someone used magic words to me: “You can not …”. I took it as a challenge and a great opportunity to say, “Yes, I can ..” and here I am. Yes, YOU can ☺

Favorite website or app:
The Internet is full of nice things. Enjoy it!

Twitter: @tatiaires



STEMinist Profile: Luz Rivas, Engineering Educator, Iridescent

Luz Rivas

Luz Rivas

Engineering Educator


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was in Kindergarten during the 1980 Presidential Election and hearing about it on TV made me decide that I wanted to be President of the United States. After President Reagan was shot and I found out you had to be at least 35 to qualify, I decided this career wasn’t for me. A few years later when I was in fifth grade, my classroom got an Apple IIe computer and a few of us (all girls) were taught to program it.

I really liked the challenge and at the time it was something not many kids were doing. Compared to President of the United States, no career choice seemed impossible to me so I decided I wanted to pursue a computer-related career. I also didn’t know that computer and engineering fields were male-dominated and were considered hard. In high school I participated in the MESA program and learned what engineering was. I then decided to study Electrical Engineering.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
After college, I was an electrical hardware engineer for Motorola. I worked on an automotive telematics product that integrated GPS with other technologies. It was fun because at the time not much of this type of work was being done so I felt like I was in on something.

Right now, I’m working on a great project for Iridescent. We are producing videos of science researchers explaining their work to kids along with activities that kids can try at home. It’s important for kids to know about cutting-edge science research. I think kids should be aware that science is not a set of facts and that people are working on answering scientific questions and developing new technologies, sometimes in their own neighborhoods.

Role models/heroes:
Dr. Ellen Ochoa, she’s Latina and a EE so of course she was a role model for me

Why do you love working in STEM?
I now work in STEM education and I love it because I have the opportunity to share with kids, youth and adults how cool it is to work in these fields. I’m involved in different maker groups in LA where I have the opportunity to continue developing STEM skills and finding ways to inform my work. I also run a Meetup group for women (@DIYgirls) that are interested in learning new skills.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had lots of people offer help and mentoring. While it’s been helpful, I haven’t always taken it or followed up with offers of help. Looking back, I wish I would have been more proactive in reaching out to mentors.

Favorite website/app:
I recently downloaded the Atari app. I love the old Centipede game.

Twitter: @luzrivas


STEMinist Profile: Spacefem, Avionics/electrical systems engineer



Avionics/electrical systems engineer
Airplane manufacturer in Wichita, Kansas

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I wasn’t always the best at math and science, but in high school I started appreciating & liking it more. If you had a good idea you didn’t need credentials or even friends to agree with you, you just had to prove it logically. If it worked, it worked. How lovely!

I decided the job prospects for engineers was better than the ones for physicists and got a degree in electonics engineering technology, and eventually a masters in electrical engineering. And then a pilot’s license, just for fun. I sort of fell into aviation by accident, and airplane love is contagious once you’re there.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
In large vague terms, let me just say that when you’ve poured months of your life into an airplane prototype, squatting in the middle of 15 people in a cabin six feet wide playing “twister” to get your oscilloscope probes in the right place to troubleshoot a data bus, it brings tears to your eyes to see it all fly. You stay up late with it, answer calls about it, put your name on it, worry about it… it’s your baby! (And I’ve had an actual baby, so I can say that sort of thing now.)

Role models and heroes:
In high school I would have said Hypatia or Ada Lovelace, but now that I’m in the world there are so many inspirational engineers I’ve met in person, mostly through the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Women who were told by their professors that they couldn’t make it, who lived in constant fear of being that failure mark against all women. Women who had to explain that they were there to do “just what the men do”.

Everything we’ve done since the beginning of history is so amazing, there are stories from everywhere. Of course I have male heroes too, my favorite guy this month is author and mathematics professor John Allen Paulos. But in my personal life it’s the women who’ve made the biggest difference.

Advice for future STEMinists?
As Gail Evans says, “play for the women’s team!” I feel like there’s been this division between feminism and STEM, because feminism is really a field of sociology and sometimes it’s hard for us nerds to relate. So I hear woman engineers say “There’s no way to tell why I’m the only woman in this department. I guess something’s wrong with other women. I made it on my own just fine, we don’t need feminism to increase the numbers of women or improve things for me.”

I think we DO need feminism, we need a lot of it, the lens would improve things for science. It will make technology better because we’ll draw talent from the entire population, not just men.

Twitter: @spacefem