Meet Diana Iracheta
Diana Iracheta is a first-generation Mexican immigrant who is currently a manufacturing and mechanical engineer. As a strong advocate for women and minorities in STEM, she founded “Latina Engineer”, an organization where she shares personal anecdotes and other empowering content to encourage students that anyone is capable of becoming an engineer.
Interview With Diana Iracheta
Diana Iracheta is a manufacturing and mechanical engineer at Burgess-Norton Mfg. Co. She immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. at 12 years old and went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northern Illinois University. A strong advocate for women and minorities in STEM, Diana founded “Latina Engineer”, an online platform where she shares empowering content to show that anyone is capable of being an engineer.
Did you always want to go into STEM as a child?
Not at all. I had always enjoyed math because it was the class that I didn’t have a problem in because of my English. It made sense when it was in Spanish, and it made sense when I came to America. I hadn’t learned English yet, but I could still make sense out of it because it was numbers.
When I was a senior in high school, I took physics. It was really challenging, and I wanted to get out of the class within a couple of weeks. My parents and my counselor convinced me to stay in there, and I found out later that I actually really enjoyed it. I liked being able to overcome the challenges and to understand how things work the way they did. That’s when I knew I wanted to go into STEM. Until I started college, I thought I was going to be a physics major. I started venturing into engineering until I finally found mechanical engineering, which was the one that I was most interested in.
What was your college journey like and how have those experiences prepared you for your career?
I did two years at a local community college, and then I transferred to Northern Illinois University, which was close to home. I received two scholarships for my first few years: one paid for my tuition and the other let me into a program for STEM students. In the program, I met almost all of the STEM professors at the school and got a mentor in physics, my field of interest.
My mentor was a woman of color and an immigrant. Seeing her career be successful and her immigrant household background was really influential and beneficial for me. To have a role model and to have a group of STEM people that I was able to learn more about different career paths from was really helpful.
Transferring to the four-year university, I went from taking general education courses to taking full on engineering courses. It was really challenging, and my first test was really bad. Fortunately, I had support from my family and my boyfriend, who is my husband now. They encouraged me to keep going, and I eventually worked my way to be better and got used to it.
What was your favorite class that you took in college?
I really like my Solidworks class. I enjoyed all the assignments and the homework didn’t even feel like homework because I liked doing it. Solidworks is a software that I used in my first job, in my internships, and now in my second job. It was just fun and didn’t feel like a hard class because it didn’t involve understanding all of these equations and formulas.
A subject that I didn’t really like in college but now really enjoy is materials science. I actually got out of the class the first time because I felt like there was no way for me to pass the class. But, I did take it a second time, which went way better. Now that I’m out of school, I’ve used it a lot, and I think it’s super interesting.
What made you choose mechanical engineering over the other engineering subfields?
The biggest ones are mechanical, electrical, and industrial/civil engineering.
When I was taking physics, I was able to see the more mechanical part of physics. To me, the things that I could see made more sense. Things that I saw move made way more sense to me than electrons and all this other stuff. Knowing that just gave me an idea that it had to be something more towards mechanical.
I was interested in biomedical engineering at some point, but the school that I wanted to go to didn’t have biomedical as a subfield under mechanical engineering. Instead, it was an electrical engineering degree which you can then focus on biomedical. But, I knew electrical wasn’t really something that I was really interested in.
The different types of engineering overlap. With biomedical, mechanical, and even with electrical, you don’t have to specifically do the bachelor’s that you got. I got a degree in mechanical engineering, and I’m working as a manufacturing engineer. I saw the potential of mechanical engineering as it has so many different branches that you can go into.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Solving problems and seeing things get made. With design, engineering, and mechanical, sometimes you know the design, but you don’t really get to see the final product. I’ve heard from other engineers that they make this complex design and then send it out to another company to make without ever seeing it.
In manufacturing, you get to see the drawings and even establish how it’s going to be made. I think that it’s super interesting to see the whole process. I don’t think I could just sit over at the computer, make drawings, and send them out being like “good luck”. Some of my job still overlaps with design, but I also get to experience the second part of it, which is seeing it come to life.
What skills would you say are important for a role like yours?
Being curious and wanting to have a solution — always trying to figure out how things work and finding a better way to do it. As far as technical skills, you can learn everything. As long as you’re open to learning, you’ll be fine.
For example, I know how to use Solidworks, which is important for both positions that I’ve been in. Although I have the background in mechanical manufacturing, I still have to be open to learning because right now my first two weeks are going to be just learning to navigate the new company. I’m also doing automation now, which is something that I haven’t done before. I didn’t really do it in school, but I’ll figure it out. I have all these people that can help me and even the Internet!
What obstacles have you faced as a Latina engineer and how did you overcome them?
In school, I felt really out of place because English wasn’t my first language. I was one of maybe two women out of 80 students, once I got to the upper classes. I was shy, so I didn’t really reach out to the other students. That made it really hard to feel like I fit in. I was just trying to get through my degree, get out, and do my life. But now that I have the community of “Latina Engineer”, it’s really made me feel like I belong here.
If you see another girl in your classes, go sit next to them and talk to them. If you think that other students aren’t talking to you, it’s probably just because they’re just as shy as you. So, go out there. I wish I could go back and not be so shy.
At work, I felt like I was always welcome. At my first job, my boss was really supportive and never made me feel like I was any different because I was a woman. That really helped me develop the courage and confidence to keep learning and trying new things.
As far as in the professional environment, I have never had a negative experience where somebody told me I can’t do something. I think those negative comments happen more often on Instagram just because it’s public. Not everybody goes through the same discrimination, but it exists. I’ve had counselors tell me that I couldn’t have good grades because my English wasn’t as fluent. I’ve had other Mexican students tell me that I couldn’t be a good speller because I was Mexican. It makes you think, why are these people just trying to hate on other people who might even be similar to them?
What inspired you to start your organization, “Latina Engineer”?
I felt really comfortable when I started my first engineering job. I felt like, for once, I could be whatever I wanted. Nobody was telling me that I couldn’t do something because I was wearing pink or because I was wearing heels. I just wanted to share my story to encourage other women that it isn’t so bad.
With “Latina Engineer”, I was able to connect with Latinas in different states and in different countries. You start meeting this community that you have access to. You would’ve never met them if you just stuck to your school or your job where you might be the only woman or the only Latina in engineering. I wanted to create a network where women and minorities in engineering would be able to connect with each other.
I also felt very motivated to start this organization. I had a really hard time where I would cry once or twice a week. Just seeing that little “you can do it” and “you’re not any different” helped because we’re always so prone to having imposter syndrome. These messages have reminded me of my goals and that I’m doing this for a reason. I’m going to make it.
How would you describe your work life balance?
When I was still at my previous job, it wasn’t as crazy as it is right now. I worked a full time job, and I could start at the time I wanted to start. I actually liked starting early, so I would focus on my job from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm. After I was done with that, I’d maybe take a call and then work on the orders from my Etsy shop.
There was a point where I was overwhelmed and had to learn to take time for myself. I had to set boundaries. Maybe I could only meet on this day, and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t have to work. I can’t be present on every single event.
Now that I’m starting my new job, it’s become a bit crazy as I am trying to figure out and adjust to everything. I always have to be careful not to forget about me resting because I could be sitting at my computer for the rest of the day after work, and I would not finish the stuff that I need to do. Scheduling and sticking to it has helped me out a lot.
Can you walk us through a typical day in the life?
(Diana is describing her day-to-day routine at Methode Electronics, where she previously worked.)
We were a smaller team of manufacturing engineers. There were meetings where we went over production or any other items that were pending. If we had any new launches of new products, we’d have other meetings for that, which consisted of reviewing whether we could make it, the quotes, and the equipment that we needed.
If there were any problems on the line, we were probably the ones that would be called into the shop. Any drawing that needed to be updated would come through me and either I would tell the design team to update it or it would be something that I could do myself.
If there was a new line, I would be there either writing work instructions, training people, or sometimes even doing it myself if it was the very first run. I would also complete paperwork (process flows and analyses). I really enjoy my job because there is always something new and different. You definitely never got bored.
What would you say to a student who is interested in pursuing a career in engineering?
Research the different types of engineering, reach out to professionals and students that are a couple years ahead to gain more insights into the field. Ask multiple professionals instead of just one to get the point of views of multiple people in the field.
Start doing internships as early as you can. At the job that I’m starting, we have an intern that’s still in high school. He’s learning about the field even before he goes to college. Internships really help you because that’s when you connect what you’re learning in school to the real world.
I always add my favorite quote:
Feel the fear and do it anyway
I’ve been really scared to do a lot of the things I’ve done: jumping into a call, doing a presentation in a conference, taking a new job, and even just applying were all scary. But, you have to look farther than that. I always ask myself what my goal is and say, “if being scared for those first five minutes is going to get me there, then I’m going to do it.”