I feel like the things that I’m scared of and not good at initially - those are the things I really gravitate towards.
What do you do?
I study Electrical Engineering Technology & do my undergraduate research in biotechnology at California State Long Beach. I’m also an intern at a startup called AstroLabs, and work closely with NASA engineers and scientists.
At AstroLabs, I’m working on the front end of the company’s first product and developing a GUI for satellite constellations. Thousands of satellites are going to be launched into space over the coming years. So what we’re developing will provides a constellation analysis, spacecraft information, and orbital operations of hundreds of satellite orbiting Earth.
How did you get into engineering?
I really got into engineering from competing when I was younger, but in college I was initially interested in studying mechanical engineering, since I liked biomechanics and wanted to do bioengineering. I changed to electrical because of my research; I do research under a fellowship called RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) through school. I’m in two labs; the one that I mainly focus on [involves] developing an attachment device to help lower-limb amputees recognize sensations linked to falling that they’ve lost. The other research I do is linked with post-stroke patients; I helped develop a device that analyzes and helps correct their gait.
What did you want to be growing up?
Growing up I wanted to be a lot of different things like an archaeologist or a video game designer, but I was really set on being a brain surgeon - just imagine a 6 or 7 year old sitting in front of “ER.” I would watch those shows and I would pretend I was a student and take notes on what they were doing. But I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be more involved - I wanted to be an inventor, or scientist of some sort. That’s how I got into engineering initially.
Did you feel encouraged or discouraged about going into technology?
My teachers from grade school supported me because they saw potential in me. But sometimes I was discouraged. I remember having a really hard time with multiplication and division. My dad would always try to help me with my math homework, and one day I said, “you know what, Dad, I don’t want to do anything with numbers again! I hate it, I can’t do it.” I just took that summer to actually work on it, and then I liked it after that.
I remember in college I wasn’t doing so well in the math class; [my advisors] were like, “okay, Rae, so you’re in engineering right now, so you gotta know math. Since you’re not doing that well compared to other students, maybe you should switch into something like communications or liberal arts.” They kind of put me in a situation - try considering the arts or teaching or something.
How did you overcome that discouragement? Did it come naturally?
Oh no! When you really feel passionate about a field and you genuinely enjoy it, any obstacle that comes with it can be conquered- if it’s math that I’m struggling with, then I’ll focus on that, if it’s science, then I’ll focus on that. You figure out what’s wrong and then you learn how to get through it.
What is your first memory of being intrigued by technology?
As a kid, I was weird. I read encyclopedias. I really gravitated towards Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci, so I read up on what they did, and it opened up more doors.
The first time I really got involved was when I did national engineering competitions back in middle school. I was still in that mindset of “I don’t want to do math or science, I want to be in the arts or something,” but my friends, Reggie, Kim, and Breanna, got me to do this. Next thing you know we won first nationally.
We built a windmill. It generated electricity, it moved a car that we built, it lifted masses and had to follow an oscillating fan. We competed three times and we would always end up in either nationals or state. That’s when I was like, “Okay, I’m good at this.” Plus, my friends were doing it too and they made it fun.
Have you had any mentors or champions along the way?
Our math teacher in 8th grade, Mr. Mills - when we would compete, we called him Mama Duck. We were his little ducklings. I still keep in touch with him today and update him with my life. He’s the one who really got me into math and science despite how I was struggling. He really worked with me. He helped with my foundation. I also have my “mom” on campus, Mama Saba, who helped me with opportunities and my research mentors, Dr. Buonora, Dr. Marayong, and Dr. Khoo.
What do you want to learn next?
I wasn’t really into programming before, but I took my first programming course in the spring and actually enjoyed it. I feel like the things that I’m scared of and not good at initially - those are the things I really gravitate towards. I’m working with Julia now, and I want to learn how to marry the things I’m learning [about] space with my passions [in] biotech. I kind of want to find that fusion, but I just haven’t quite found it yet.
Do you have any hobbies that are unrelated to your field?
I really love playing video games - my all time favorite is The Legend of Zelda. What I’ve been playing more recently is Overwatch and it’s super fun. But when I’m not by the computer, I like scuba diving since I really love fish. It’s cool, it’s how you would imagine an astronaut would feel in space.
What motivates you?
There are so many things in a lifetime to do and to learn about. I don’t want to say I’m captivated by it, but it’s fascinating to know the unknown. I like to picture myself now meeting my younger self, or even meeting my future family and kids. When I’m doing the things I do now, I just want to be the person that they would want to look up to and strive to be one day. That’s what really motivates me.
What advice do you have?
Don’t be discouraged, despite all the challenges. People might say, it’s a male dominated field or you don’t have the skill set, but don’t let that stop you. Let that challenge you and motivate you to do better. Constantly challenge yourself to the point where you’re not bored with life and realize what you’re truly capable of. If it’s your dream, always be resilient.