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Grad Spotlight: What Maya Garcia is Taking from her McCormick Education

Garcia is graduating with a degree in computer engineering

When she first started at Northwestern Engineering, Maya Garcia had doubts. She used those doubts as a prop, keeping her quiet in classes and restricting her from asking questions.

By the end of her time at the McCormick School of Engineering, the crutch was gone.

A computer engineering major, Garcia is graduating this month from the McCormick School of Engineering. While she picked up plenty of academic knowledge, Garcia also learned plenty about herself.

“I gained a skill in being confident to exist in spaces not traditionally made for me. I learned to validate my experiences and knowledge to the same level as my peers and professors,” Garcia said. “Doubt was a dangerous crutch during my first couple of years and the more I pushed myself to talk in class, ask professors ‘dumb’ questions, and feel secure in my presence, the more I constructively engaged with my learning. This confidence allowed me to engage with all aspects of the learning process and transformed my experience as an indigenous female engineer.” 

Maya Garcia

In a Q&A, Garcia reflected on her time at Northwestern Engineering. 

Why did you decide to pursue engineering at Northwestern?
As a student not fully divorced from humanities, it was crucial for me to nurture my creativity when problem-solving. Northwestern’s whole-brain engineering philosophy nurtured this relationship, offering a space where all my skills were technically trained, celebrated, and encouraged. With this encouragement, I did an English minor and took courses ranging from psychology to environmental policy.

How did the McCormick curriculum help build a balanced, whole-brain ecosystem around your studies in your major? 
More important than creating solutions to real-world problems in our Design Thinking and Communication courses, we were pushed to think of ourselves as a collective whole and work as a team. With the class’s writing component, we learned to clearly communicate with our clients and each other through speech and writing. Similarly, classes like COMP_SCI 330: Human-Computer Interaction highlighted that our work is not separate from the people for whom we create. My engineering solutions became well-rounded and unique because of this strengthened relationship between my solutions and the people they serve.

What are some examples of collaborative or interdisciplinary experiences at Northwestern that were impactful to your education and/or research?
I participated in a variety of collaborative spaces, including an internship at the San Francisco International Airport and research groups across different schools. These spaces presented opportunities to interact with and listen to unique perspectives on engineering outside of the classroom. My understanding of what it means to be an engineer was broadened with this range of perspectives with people of different ages, disciplines, and identities. Now, I’ve become much more confident about the career I want to have and the kind of people I want to work with.

What's next? 
After taking Environmental Justice: CIV_ENG 308 and SOC 212: Environment and Society, I felt inspired to shift to creating sustainable solutions with engineering. So, this coming fall, I will pursue a master's degree in environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

What advice do you have for current and future Northwestern Engineering students?
I maintained a healthy balance while completing my engineering degree and prevented burnout by taking at least one humanities course every quarter. The only time I took a full STEM load, not only did my grades suffer, but I did too. My humanities courses gave me a break from the stressful STEM but still helped push me toward completing my degree.