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Outstanding Senior empowers others to excel

For Jess Choteau Outstanding Senior and first-generation college student Candelaria Alayon, studying mechanical engineering and joining the profession is just part of her larger mission. Hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada, Alayon regards engineering as much more than just mechanics, design or a great career. For her, it is also a unique opportunity to embrace and celebrate Hispanic women and women of color who strive for personal and professional success in a male-dominated field.

Support and empowerment

woman with long black hair smiling while wearing a blue dress
Candelaria Alayon

“As a Hispanic woman, I want nothing more than for other Hispanic women to be included in the dialogue between both male and female engineers to assess the challenges of the field and to further research,” Alayon said. With increasing numbers of women graduating with STEM degrees every year, the question becomes, for Alayon, how Hispanic women and women of color can be supported while they are students and once they have entered the workforce. According to Alayon, “making sure that women feel empowered within these fields is essential.”

For Alayon, however, the matter goes beyond mere acceptance: “It’s imperative that we, as a profession and the community at large, encourage and advocate for these engineers.” One vital way to accomplish this goal, Alayon advises, is to engage with organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the country’s largest association dedicated to fostering Hispanic leadership in STEM. Currently the secretary of The University of Tulsa’s student chapter of the SHPE, Alayon believes that such organizations are crucial for providing students with “a place of belonging” where they can find others with the same passions.

“Not only do organizations such as the SHPE provide campus connections, they also enable connections with others across the nation,” noted Alayon. In particular, through SHPE conferences “it [is] amazing to see so many other Hispanic females who are studying engineering empower each other and make connections with people of all different backgrounds.”

An inspiring leader

With an endless amount of drive, it is little surprise that Alayon’s interests and activities extend beyond her work with the SHPE. In addition, she is president this year of Phi Eta Sigma and Tau Beta Pi, volunteers with Peer Mentors, Future Alumni Council and Reading Partners, and is active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. On top of all that, Alayon also serves as a University Ambassador.

group photo of a man and three women grouped closely together outdoors
Candelaria with her father, mother and sister

While Alayon admits that getting involved in extracurricular organizations can be tiring, for her, the benefits far outweigh the occasional exhaustion. “I try my best to be passionate about each and every group I join,” remarked Alayon, “and I do my best to ensure each one gives the same opportunities to others that they have given to me.”

Alayon’s energy and the results it has produced have certainly garnered the attention of faculty. “Candelaria has a unique ability to unify others,” said James Sorem, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences. In addition, he noted that Alayon “is an individual who is destined to succeed and who creates a path for others also to aspire.”

Striking a similar note, Department of Mechanical Engineering Chairperson John Henshaw commented that Alayon “gives new meaning to the term Golden Hurricane. She is an extremely gifted mechanical engineering student, an exceptionally hard worker, a natural-born leader and just an all-around fun person.”

Given the high esteem with which Alayon is held by Sorem, Henshaw and many others across TU, it is little surprise that she recently received two prestigious awards: the Tau Beta Pi Undergraduate Scholarship and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers John and Elsa Gracik Scholarship. “I am proud to have received these awards, and I want to find ways to make other students aware of these scholarship opportunities so they can reap the benefits of their hard work too,” Alayon commented.

Also a regular person…

Large, blue furry Drillers mascot character standing beside a woman who is smiling and wearing a black top and blue jeans
Having fun at a Tulsa Drillers game

With such an impressive résumé, it may be hard to believe that Alayon is also someone who is trying to relax and enjoy the rest of her time in college. Like most students, she goes on late-night Braum’s runs and makes coffee with friends for those nights where sleep is not going to happen. She also attends sports games, builds igloos during once-in-a-lifetime snowstorms, loves to read and travel, and spends free time with friends watching movies and going for walks.

After graduation next May, Alayon intends to work full time as an engineer while completing an MBA program focused on business communication. But, as busy as her life and as ambitious as her plans always are, Alayon never loses sight of what’s really most important: “At the end of the day, being a student at TU is, for me, about making memories with lifelong friends.”


The Jess Chouteau Outstanding Senior Award recognizes TU seniors who demonstrate exceptional achievement in both academic and service endeavors. Learn more about Candelaria Alayon and the rest of the inspiring 2021 recipients.

 

 

Biological science as a gateway to STEM

Why should I get a degree in biological science? 

Jobs in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are hot. Of the 10 jobs expected to grow the fastest by 2029, all 10 are in STEM-related fields.  

A lot of majors will lead you to one of these careers, but biological science is the most versatile way to go. Here’s what a degree in biology can do for you. 

What will I study?  

As a student at The University of Tulsa, you’ll study the fundamental processes that govern all life — human, animal and plant. But you’ll also take courses in chemistry, genetics, math, ecology and evolution, and other topics that provide a gateway to a wide variety of STEM careers. 

woman looking through a microscope in a laboratoryYou can enroll in two basic types of biology degree at TU: a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS). A BA degree gives you more room to take classes in the arts and humanities, while a BS degree drills in deeply on science and math. 

Majoring in biology gives you an advantage when applying to medical or veterinary school. The biological science curriculum includes all the classes you’ll need to impress admission committees. As a student in the pre-med track, you’ll work closely with advisers to be sure your courses and grades are dialed in before applying. (You’re joining an elite group of students: In 2020, med schools accepted 85% of TU students who applied.) 

What career paths does a biological science degree lead to?  

  • Animal behavior. As an animal behaviorist, you’ll study the relationship of animals to their environment and other animals. Most animal behaviorists work in academia, but you might also work in a zoo to improve the health of the animals there. Some are employed by drug companies to study the effects of certain pharmaceuticals on behavior. Or you may work with pet owners to understand why their pets are acting a certain way. 
  • Development and evolution. How did life originate on Earth? What factors influenced it? By understanding how organisms and microorganisms developed, you’ll gain deeper insight into biology itself — and put those lessons to work as we study disease, protect species against climate change and more. 
  • Ecology. Ecologists study the complex relationships between organisms and their environment. Some ecologists work in universities, but others address environmental problems such as pollution and climate change while employed by state or federal agencies. If you want to become a conservationist to help protect habitats and biodiversity, ecology is a career you’ll want to consider. 
  • Population and reproductive genetics. As a geneticist, you may try to identify why certain populations are more or less susceptible to particular diseases. Or you may work with parents-to-be to help them understand hereditary risks their children may face. 
  • Microbiology. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae — these microorganisms are literally everywhere. Even though they can’t be seen by the naked eye, they influence the food we eat, our health and the environment. 
  • Virology. In the age of COVID-19, the importance of studying viruses is obvious. Viruses pose countless other threats to animals and plants alike, however, as HIV, Ebola, influenza and even the common cold are infectious pathogens that cause human suffering and death. 
  • Plant biology. To say “plant scientists study plants” doesn’t do justice to the far-reaching influence of their work. Some plant scientists study how plants can be used as medicine. Others study how climate change affects plant life. In agriculture, plant scientists identify crops that resist the effects of drought, disease and pests.  
  • Sensory biology/sensory ecology. Organisms rely on a mind-bending amount of information to respond to the world around them. Sharks, for example, can sense fluctuations in electrical fields. Other creatures can detect pain. By understanding these inputs, scientists can get deeper insight into animal behavior. And they can also develop conservation strategies that reduce the impact of certain human behavior may inadvertently cause. 

Study biological science at The University of Tulsa 

At The University of Tulsa, biological science courses will introduce you to a lot of these topics. And extensive research opportunities in field sites such as the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, the Oklahoma Cross Timbers, the Ozark Mountains and La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica will give you experience to build on. 

 

Hurricane Mathfest builds confidence for girls in STEM fields

The 2019 Hurricane Mathfest was sponsored by The University of Tulsa Department of Mathematics and included two separate competitions: a girls-only team challenge for local girls in grades three through eight and a high school individual and team competition.

The competition

hurricane mathfestIn the girls-only team event, 136 girls from the following schools competed on 34 teams in two divisions: upper elementary and middle school.

  • Bristow Middle School
  • Carver Middle School
  • Cascia Hall Preparatory School
  • Cleveland Elementary School
  • Collins Elementary (Bristow)
  • Eisenhower Elementary School
  • Gilcrease Elementary School
  • Gilcrease Middle School
  • Holland Hall
  • Kendall-Whittier Elementary School
  • McLain Junior High School
  • Memorial Junior High school
  • Monroe Demonstration Academy
  • Thoreau Demonstration Academy
  • Union 6th and 7th Grade Center
  • Warner Elementary School
  • Daniel Webster Middle School
  • Westside Elementary School (Claremore)
  • Zarrow Elementary School

Helping hands

Hurricane MathfestThe TU student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) co-sponsored this year’s event. SWE members greeted participants at registration, served as proctors
for testing, delivered snacks, graded exams and organized math games during breaks.

The group also provided T-shirts for the event, but most importantly, served as TU ambassadors, promoting degree programs in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.
TU female engineering and science students often volunteer to help raise awareness of the importance of mathematics.

Math + Confidence = Fun

Hurricane MathfestHurricane Mathfest volunteer Gloria Lee, a mechanical engineering sophomore, explained the valuable role that mathematics can have in the lives of young women. “It’s important to encourage them. If you put your mind to it, whether or not you think you’re the best, as long as you give 110%, you can work hard and apply yourself,” Lee said.

Fellow volunteer Caroline Yaeger is majoring in mathematics and economics and plans to pursue a career that educates others in math. “If you look at it the right way, the challenge of math can be fun,” she said. “The field of math, science, technology and engineering is difficult, but that’s part of the fun of it.”

True Inclusion: Senior Rachel Deeds is Building Space for Women in STEM

Engineering and other STEM fields can be a boy’s club, but mechanical engineering senior Rachel Deeds is working to make sure women have a strong future in STEM. As a student at The University of Tulsa, Deeds rose quickly through the ranks in the Society of Women Engineers, interned for national organizations during the summer and worked tirelessly to create space and opportunity for other women and girls interested in engineering.

Finding her own role models

Deeds was a little hesitant when she first became interested in STEM and had to find her own role models. One of these was her father, teaching her to fix things as a child. “He was a stay at home dad who was consistently working on a ton of different projects. I really got to experience giving back to the community in fixing things with him. He inspired me to go against the stereotype and pursue my interests in that,” she said. Deeds also looked up to the great history of women in STEM who went against the grain and innovated in their fields. This would lead her to a major in mechanical engineering at TU, with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, Deeds visited the campus several times when deciding where to finally attend school. In every visit, Deeds was blown away by how welcoming and nice people were at TU. This supportive environment along with the opportunities in her program would eventually help her move on to so much more.

Find out more about UTulsa’s STEM programs.

Internship Success

During summer breaks, Deeds landed internships with national companies that would help build her résumé and refine her interests. Deeds distinguished herself at Caterpillar, working as the only engineer on a team of business students. “It was kind of challenging at first, being that unique perspective,” Deeds reflected, but she didn’t let it discourage her.

One of the accomplishments Deeds was most proud of at Caterpillar was creating workflow, defining process maps that are still utilized by the company today. “Whenever a new product came online, I mapped out the who what and when,” she explained. Her initiative and talent set her apart in her internships. These qualities would also make her a leader at TU, and eventually in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Check out how Career Services can help you find an internship like Rachel.

Leading the way for women in STEM

Rachel Deeds, women in STEMAttending the Annual SWE Conference in Philadelphia, Deeds had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in STEM fields. “As a prospective college student, I didn’t want to be the only one in my position,” Deeds said. “I looked for a way to give back to students like me.” This experience inspired Deeds to pursue a leadership position within SWE and she was eventually elected president of the TU SWE chapter.

Get connected with the UTulsa chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Deeds’ work in the community doesn’t stop there. She also worked with Make a Difference Engineering at TU (MADE AT TU) to design and build therapeutic devices to help special needs students in Tulsa and was selected as an SWE Future Leader, the first TU student to hold that position. As an SWE Future Leader, Deeds acted as an exponent for SWE, sharing her experience and inspiring young women around the country to become the engineers of the future.

With people like Rachel Deeds leading the way, the future for women in STEM is bright.