CDC Women in STEM Careers - Rosally Rivera, BS
Quality and Sustainability Office, Office of Safety, Security and Asset Management, CDC
Her teenage dream was to be the first Hispanic woman on the moon. She had always liked building model airplanes and reading about space exploration. So why not reach for the stars?
But after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986 with seven astronauts on board, Rosally Rivera started looking at other career paths. She chose what she thought was the closest field to aerospace engineering: mechanical engineering. It let her marry two of her passions—physics and materials science—to design mechanical systems.
Now a project manager at CDC, she still wouldn’t mind meeting Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to travel to outer space, to hear what it was like.
“I believe women in science careers have a chance to make a big difference in the world,” Rivera says. “We bring a different perspective to our work in public health. When you think about it, we are great multitaskers. We juggle family and work. And we are able to bring that juggling skill to the workplace.”
Acing the Material
Even when I was a little kid, I loved to explore how model airplanes and cars were built. I would take electronic toys apart to see how they worked inside and try to put them back together. My parents let me use my imagination and didn’t hinder me.
Given my nature, I decided to study mechanical engineering, which combines physics and materials science. Mechanical engineers design systems for buildings. You may never have thought about the heating and air conditioning system in your home, school, or workplace, but someone had to design it.
I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. As a woman in engineering, I have worked mostly with men throughout my career. That has its advantages and disadvantages. Even though I knew I could do the work, I had to prove myself. I learned to become tougher and more resilient. I learned not to take things personally.
Girls and women who choose careers in engineering are adventurous. These aren’t easy careers. There are more women engineers than when I first started. We’ve come a long way!
When I tell people I’m a mechanical engineer, they say, “Wow! You must be really smart.” I tell them it’s not so much about being smart, but about working hard and always being willing to learn new things.”
The Woman behind the Facelifts
Working at CDC is one of the highlights of my career. I manage two large projects, which involve updating science laboratories. I like being in on every phase of the project, from design through construction. It’s especially fun for me that there are major engineering components to the job, including air and electrical systems.
As project manager and contracting representative for the Buildings and Facilities Office, I also am responsible for repairs and improvements. I can be found doing anything from researching building codes to managing contractors to see that they’re on schedule with the work.
Before, when I worked for private companies, I would only see laboratory designs on paper. Now I get to see construction progress firsthand, and that’s exciting to me. Knowing all sides of a project, from construction to maintenance and operation of a building, has made me a better designer.
Advice to Girls and Young Women
- Treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are or what they do.
- Be willing to learn from others—and from your own mistakes! In engineering science I have met many people in other fields and have learned many things that help me in my career.
- Be a good listener. It’s amazing how much you can learn by just listening. We think we know all the answers, but there are people out there who have been around longer than us.
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