women in STEM - College of Engineering & Natural Sciences

women in STEM

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.

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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…

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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.



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

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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

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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.