‘Welcome to the familia’.
It’s a greeting that welcomed Erika Antunez (IntDesEngr’24) when she first joined CU Boulder’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) as a first-year student.
Familia takes on a whole new meaning for Antunez and her own family.
“My parents worked so hard to give my sister and I a better life,” said Antunez. “I saw my parents struggle, and my struggle is really nothing compared to what they had to go through just to have my sister and I in good schools. Now, we're all doing the hard stuff, and we got the grit to do it.”
Numbers at first sight
Antunez’s parents have owned a food truck business in the Denver metro area for 22 years. Her love for math and sciences sparked in the second grade as she supported their family business across different baseball parks.
“I always joke around saying I’ve been working since being in the womb. I was their weekly cashier. I had no calculator. I didn't write anything down, and all the orders and prices were in my head,” said Antunez.
“During my freshman year projects, I was pretty much the electrical person of my group and became really interested in electrical. When I realized engineering management & entrepreneurship could be a concentration, I knew that was going to be a great fit.”
Lessons learned from sports
In every game, we know there are winners and losers. Antunez is no stranger to that, having played intramural volleyball at CU, basketball and soccer in high school and dabbled in taekwondo and tennis early on.
“I always grew up in sports and when you lose, you're actually winning because you're learning. In sports, it hurts to lose because it was physically hurting. But then in college I was losing academically, and it’s a different type of hurt.”
Antunez recalled a final exam when she needed to get a perfect score to pass the course and knew quite well that the odds were stacked against her. However, she knew one thing was going to prevail - grit.
“We're still going to take the final no matter what. In my mind, I still had to,” she said with determination.
As Antunez set her sights on improving the following semester, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Going remote was difficult as for most students, but she was relentless in persevering and attended office hours.
“No matter how much I've failed and no matter how much it felt like I was losing, it’s OK,” said Antunez. “How do I go from failing to actually passing the class? It’s learning the actual resources you have and actually getting out of your circle and asking for help.”
Embracing culture and community
There aren’t many places on campus where you find conchas - a traditional Mexican pan dulce or sweet bread. Antunez knew she belonged at SHPE, one of nine affinity-based student societies supported by the BOLD Center, after seeing conchas at their general meetings. This sense of belonging guided her journey both as a student and for her future aspirations.
“As a first-generation Hispanic student, I don't see a lot of people like me in engineering. That's fine because I'm telling people, ‘don't let this be a fear and just keep going’. It’s really empowering,” she said. “There’s also some classes where I was the only girl in that class, but it was me and the professor that were the only women in my class. I'm here to do me.”
Whether it’s her BOLD scholarship group or the SHPE organization, where she is now the vice president, Antunez thrives in an environment where her amiable spirit shines through.
“With SHPE, we are there for each other and building a community. We're engineers at the end of the day, we already do a lot of hard work. We try to build that professional and academic development, but let's have fun as well.”
Her favorite parts of being involved with SHPE are community events such as last year’s mocktail night with trivia. This year, SHPE hosted an Afro-Latino Night as a collaboration with National Society Of Black Engineers, where they brought in a dance instructor for food, camaraderie and fun.
Risk it all. Risk it now.
This past summer, Erika studied abroad in Croatia as part of an international business & management global seminar. It’s only appropriate that immediately after her Maymester abroad, she embarked on a 10-week internship at Deloitte, one of the largest international consulting companies.
“On my team, I worked on identity access management, which is basically cybersecurity kind of work with authentication for technology applications and onboarding,” she said. “I was literally doing the mixture of both business and engineering blending the best of both worlds and doing a lot of product development.”
Antunez’s strong internship performance helped her secure a full-time infrastructure apprentice position for Deloitte’s technology global group working with the same team.
As for the future, “I'm very business-oriented, so eventually I’d like to start my own business,” said Antunez. “My 20s is the time to risk it all and might as well risk it now and see what I can do for myself.”
From failing a few classes along the way, getting involved with SHPE to studying abroad and landing a full-time career before graduating spring 2024, Antunez proved that failure is an important recipe for success.
“My parents did something honestly right, and their hard work paid off. Little 10-year-old self may be cashing you out back in the day, but it all was worth it. The work that we put in came out as well as it could be,” said Antunez.
Top photo: Erika and her mom at CU Boulder. Middle photo: Erika and her BOLD scholarship peers. Botton photo: Erika at her Deloitte internship in summer 2023.
CU Boulder Engineering recognizes that the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” do not describe the community’s identity as a whole. We also recognize that a term that feels right for one person may not adequately capture the experience of another. We seek to celebrate this month as broadly and inclusively as possible, and to encourage individuals to proudly claim whatever label(s) best describe how they personally identify.