The Changing face of STEM series continues

By Sharon Henry

Panelists (L to R) Esosa Agbonwaneten, Ana Papio Toda and Alexsandra Guerra discuss pursuing STEM careers alongside workshop presenters Michelle Foley, Ryan Foland, and moderator, Douglas Haynes.


 Irvine, January 21, 2015 

At a workshop last week titled “This is What a Scientist Looks Like: Changing the Face of STEM, Internships & Research Opportunities,” participants were reminded of the dismal statistics facing women seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

While females make up 47% of the U.S. workforce, they account for a mere 13 percent of engineers, and barely 25 percent of computer and mathematical scientists. More troubling are the numbers for minority women, who represent fewer than 10 percent of all U.S. scientists and engineers.

The event, held at Calit2, was the second in a three-part series sponsored by Calit2 and UCI ADVANCE, a program designed to advance excellence through a commitment to equity and diversity.

“Part of the purpose behind this workshop is to create awareness about STEM opportunities – the internships and research opportunities that are available here at UCI and the many partners we have in industry,” said Douglas Haynes, UCI vice provost for academic equity, diversity and inclusion, and the ADVANCE program director.



Said M. Shokair, director of UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), invited students to explore the wealth of research programs available at “There is not a topic you can think of that we are not doing research on,” he said. UROP grants and fellowships offer undergraduate students an opportunity to become fully immersed in faculty-mentored, cutting-edge research. Summer fellows may be eligible for a $3,000 stipend.

“Ultimately, before you graduate, you want to have at least one internship on your resume, whether you’re going to grad school or directly into industry,” said Michelle Foley, UCI Career Center internship coordinator. The Career Center has resources to give UCI students a competitive edge in landing internships and jobs, she said.


Audience members ask panelists about their experiences working in STEM fields.

 "Take Ten” career consulting is available Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students can drop in to discuss career goals, get information about specific internships and develop an internship-search action plan > The Center’s Career Discovery Series provides career path insight and tips from UCI alumni and professionals. Events are scheduled throughout the winter and spring quarters.

Undergraduate and graduate students utilizing the On-Campus Interview Program (OCI) can interview for full-time jobs or internships with major corporations and government agencies. Employers visiting UCI have included Microsoft, Facebook, Deloitte, Aramark and Wells Fargo. To learn more about internships, upcoming career workshops, career fairs and on-campus interviews visit


Blackstone Launchpad is a charitable organization created to generate early entrepreneurship opportunities for UCI students, according to Ryan Foland, the organization’s assistant director. “What’s unique about us is we help students start companies,” he said. “If you have a difficult time getting an internship at a company, why not start your own?  Meeting business professionals who have been out there in the world, that’s where it truly happens.”

 Blackstone Launchpad promotes weekly events to help students network with business professionals.

The “Lunchtime Launchpad” series, held most Mondays and Thursdays at the Blackstone Launchpad office in the student center, showcases entrepreneurs sharing their experiences about the world of startups.

“One Million Cups” meets Wednesdays at 8 a.m. at the Eureka Building, 1621 Alton Parkway in Irvine. Here entrepreneurs are given six minutes to deliver a pitch. Afterwards the audience provides feedback on the delivery.

To learn more about the UCI Blackstone LaunchPad, visit


The evening’s featured guests included a panel of three women pursuing careers in STEM fields. The current and former UCI students are not only working in high-tech industries, they’re experiencing extraordinary success.

Esosa Agbonwaneten, 23, graduated from UCI last year with a bachelor’s degree in public health sciences. She’s founder and CEO of “The Bulletin,” a smartphone app that helps students manage scheduling and course syllabi.

In 2013, Alexsandra Guerra, 25, earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UCI. She currently works as an engineer at Southern California Edison’s Advanced Technology Lab.

Ana Papio Toda, 30, was an electrical engineering researcher in Spain and Germany before coming to UCI. The doctoral candidate in electrical engineering co-founded Beacon Assisted Technologies LLC; the startup’s first product is “Kaleri,” a mobile application that provides museum visitors with location-specific content and interactive features.

Students interested in finding research opportunities in other countries are advised to start working with UCI professors, then “use their connections to go abroad,” Toda said.

“Do not rely on the Internet as your crutch to find opportunities,” Guerra added. “It is so incredibly important to talk to people. We think we can Google everything, but it cannot replace the value of getting to know professors and asking them for their resources.”


Once a woman lands a job in the science sector, she’s likely to be in the minority. Guerra is one of only two women in a department of more than 100 male engineers.

“It’s weird, and it’s frustrating,” she said.  “Sometimes I feel like I’m not included because I’m a woman and they have their ‘guy-jokes’.” In the business world she said, “Women and men both kind of discount women. Men are hired for their potential. A woman is hired for what she has done.”

Even with the obstacles, Guerra is quick to point out the upside of seeking a career in a male-dominated industry. “What better time could I have lived in to be a successful woman? This is the best time so far,” she said.

The final workshop in the series, “Entrepreneurial and Career Opportunities,” is scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., in the Calit2 Auditorium.