5 questions with Ana Lazarin

07/03/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Ana Lazarin, director of programs to broaden participation in engineering at Wichita State University, works to instill in students an interest in engineering.

She does a lot of outreach, recruitment and retention work with students of all ages.

Lazarin has a special interest in working with the underrepresented and minority students in engineering.

It’s something close to her heart.

Lazarin, a WSU engineering graduate, was the first person in her family to finish high school and the first to attend college.

She grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, the youngest of three children.

For years, her dad would come to the U.S. for seasonal farm work and return to Mexico when the season was over.

When she was 13, her father moved the family to Kansas to provide her with a better future.

During high school she wanted to go to college but had little idea what to major in. She enjoyed math and working with computers.

The school counselor and a teacher had her search for careers that used the two skills.

She discovered engineering.

Lazarin attended Garden City Community College before transferring to WSU.

While still a student, she began working in outreach, recruitment and retention for WSU’s engineering department. That was in 2008.

She took on the position full time in 2011.

When staff was added to her department more than a year ago, Lazarin said it allowed the staff to expand their work with what she calls underrepresented groups, including blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and females.

She said the number of minority students in engineering at WSU has nearly doubled in the past five years, and the total number of engineering students has grown as well.

Last year, Lazarin was awarded the inaugural Global Engineering Deans Council Airbus Diversity Award.

She is married to Diego Lazarin, a teacher. They have a new baby girl, Italia.

Q. Your grandmother in Mexico was a key influence in your life and motivated you to get an education. How so?

A. My grandmother was a huge supporter of me. She was like a second mom. She was actually a very smart woman and strong. She would encourage me to do well. She would say I was smart and that I would grow up to be somebody in life and to get an education. She taught me to believe in myself. … She passed away when I was a freshman in college. I made a promise that one day I would go to her grave with my diploma. (She has.)

Q. The number of women in engineering is still a low number, although it’s rising. Why is that?

A. A lot of girls don’t know what engineers do and the different fields in engineering. I think a lot of girls think that it’s a man’s job. I think it has a lot to do with confidence, too. I’ve witnessed in the past in a class if a guy gets a B on a test, the guy says, “Whoo hoo. I got a B.” The girl that got the B on the exact same test says, “Man. What did I do wrong. I’m just not that good at it.”

Q. You mentioned that many girls don’t have mentors to inform them or encourage them to pursue engineering as a career. You try to be that mentor. Is that correct?

A. That’s my goal – that they can identify with me. They can see that I am one of those students who went through struggles and the obstacles to get my degree. Not only being a girl and a minority, but being from low income, low economical status and having to jump through many of the hoops financially. A lot of the students don’t have the family support that I had or don’t have the role models or mentors in their lives.

Q. What do you like best about your job?

A. I love helping students and being able to help their parents help them. Being able to educate them about all the different possibilities in engineering and all the different things that they can do. A lot of students I talk to don’t even know if they’re going to college. … If I can be able to reach out and get students excited about higher education and pursuing a STEM career and being here for them when they come and helping them obtain their degree. I love being able to help them get the resources they need to complete their careers.

Q. What’s your best advice to those who want to major in engineering?

A. Working hard – it’s not an easy degree – and staying motivated. Finding the resources to help you succeed and loving what you do is very important. It’s not a walk in the park. People become engineers because they want to make a difference in the world.

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