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Industrial Engineer Earns American Association of University Women Fellowship

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Natalie Thayer

Women make up less than 15 percent of professional engineers in the United States, according to a 2012 report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, but the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is working to change those statistics.

This year, the AAUW awarded Zaida Hernandez, an industrial engineering graduate student at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, a 2016–2017 Selected Professions Fellowship, which is intended to support women in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as law, medicine, science and technology. Hernandez will receive an award of nearly $12,000 to cover tuition for her graduate studies and related expenses through the fellowship.

“AAUW is in the business of making sure that no doors are closed to women and girls, because we know that true innovation can only happen when everyone has a place at the table,” said Gloria Blackwell, AAUW vice president of fellowships, grants, and global programs. “We are proud to support women’s entry into underrepresented professions that will ultimately benefit society as a whole.”

Hernandez, a native Houstonian and first-generation college student, has been committed to defying the odds as a female engineer since she was in high school. She first landed an internship with NASA Johnson Space Center as a high school senior – an experience that inspired her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Cullen College.

Hernandez continued to intern at NASA during her undergraduate and graduate studies, exploring thermal protection systems and prototyping as a member of the thermal design team. She said her experiences at NASA motivated her to continue her education at UH. She is pursuing her master’s in industrial engineering so she can combine her mechanical expertise with a deeper understanding of design, prototyping and human factors. Ideally, she hopes to continue her career at NASA as a technical expert.

Hernandez also said serving as a role model and mentor to incoming female engineers at the Cullen College underscores all of her achievements thus far.

“Although the percentage of women enrolled in engineering programs is increasing, we are still a minority,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have [AAUW] as a support system and am extremely honored to have been awarded this unique fellowship.”

Learn more about the AAUW at www.aauw.org.

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