"I used to think that I was just lucky, but I've realized that isn't true. I've worked so hard for what I have, and I'm proud of it," Yamelit Medina-Lopez (IntDesEngr'23) said.
Medina-Lopez, Yamy to most, is a recipient of the 2023 Perseverance Award from the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
She was hired as a manufacturing engineer for Ball Aerospace before the fall semester of her senior year.
She sought to to understand how young girls choose STEM through independent research with Integrated Design Engineering Teaching Professor Mindy Zarske.
She also joined Craniate, a project from Teaching Professor Shaz Zamore in the ATLAS Institute that provides a hands-on visual STEAM education tool for underserved K-12 students across the United States.
Additionally, through her years at CU Boulder, Medina-Lopez has been heavily involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), becoming the CU Boulder Chapter President from 2021 to 2022.
But Medina-Lopez didn't originally apply to engineering at CU Boulder.
"I actually didn't believe that I could get in," she said.
Her parents, however, believed in her. When she got an interview for the GoldShirt in Engineering program, they encouraged Medina-Lopez to take it.
GoldShirt acknowledges the truth that high school experiences are not uniform, and some students with incredible engineering potential don't have the same access to higher math classes, physics and chemistry and other college-prep opportunities in their high school.
The program works to provide equal access to highly capable engineering students through mentorship, access to resources and academic opportunities. Medina-Lopez, a first-generation college student, was also able to connect with other students with similar experiences.
"GoldShirt had a big impact on me. It meant a lot to have great friends who were going through the same thing as me and who came from similar backgrounds… They completely understood me," Medina-Lopez said.
Before their first semester in college, GoldShirt students attend the GoldShirt Summer Bridge, which familiarizes students with campus and gets them started on engineering projects. Many of those projects are taught by Integrated Design Engineering instructors, and after the classes, Medina-Lopez chose to pursue her degree through the IDE program, then called Engineering Plus.
"I like the way they approach teaching, and I value how much they care about their students. It meant a lot to have people believe in me, especially during hard times," Medina-Lopez said.
The Integrated Design Engineering program allows students to choose both an engineering emphasis and a concentration that can be outside of engineering. It also teaches engineering concepts through hands-on projects.
"People think that engineering is just technical, but those classes really taught me what it means to work on a team and so many time management skills," Medina-Lopez said. "And, when I was doing my job search, my resume was stacked thanks to the projects I did in IDE."
A community to count on
Like most first-year engineering students, Medina-Lopez struggled to adjust to the level of homework, and had a hard time attending meetings for SHPE in her first year.
"A core memory that I have is that, as a freshman, the president of SHPE would reach out to me a lot and just make sure I was OK because I wasn't going to the meetings. Him reaching out to me made me feel like I had a community," Medina Lopez said.
Medina-Lopez's second year was her hardest, and she learned that before she could be at her best for other people, she had to be good to herself.
"For me, I learned that perseverance is about continuing to push, but also taking care of yourself, knowing not to burn yourself out so much. It's important to take a little break and take a deep breath. You're still human, not a robot, you know?" Medina-Lopez said.