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Wave-Maker Spotlight: Patricia, Making Waves Academy Salutatorian

by Amanda Medress

Headshot of Patricia

“I want to be a software engineer and change the world with a keyboard at my fingertips.”

Meet Patricia. In 2016, Patricia graduated from Making Waves Academy as a salutatorian with a 4.36 GPA. She was selected out of 53,000 applicants to become a Gates Millennium Scholar. She accepted an offer to attend Tufts University and enrolled in the CAP program.

After spending some time on campus, however, Patricia realized Tufts wasn’t the best fit for her. “I remember feeling like it was the best school I got into, and Tufts is a pretty elite institution, and that that would be the only way I would be successful,” she said. “At first it felt like I was giving up, then I realized it was more important for me to be happy than to fit this picture of success people had painted for me. I chose to value self-preservation more than anything else, which is why I came back home.”

She’s now studying computer science and engineering at Santa Clara University. Outside of her studies, she is involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, an organization for the professional development of Latinx engineers. She is also involved in a national engineering honor society called Tau Beta Phi and a program for first-generation college students called LEAD. In addition, she works in the IT department.

Her interest in software engineering started at Making Waves Academy. “When I was in high school, I knew I was really good at math and science and logic-based reasoning,” she says. At the Academy, she started a computer coding club and networked with software engineers from Adobe and Google at Career Exploration Day. “After I found out software engineering could be used for so many things, especially social justice which I’m most passionate about, I decided to stick with it,” she says.

Along this path, Patricia has faced challenges. “Being a minority in the tech industry has been very difficult. Because I am a woman and a person of color, there never seems to be quite a room where I feel fully comfortable,” she says. “Even when I’m in engineering programs that are for people of Latin background, it’s still male-dominated and I’m one of the few women in the room. When I’m in any of my classes, I’m one of the few people and few women of color. Constantly I need to remind myself that I do belong here.”

Patricia finds the strength to persist from her family. Born in Mexico, Patricia moved to the United States when she was four months old. “A lot of my inspiration comes from my parents, and the fact that they left an entire country to pursue a better life, mostly for their kids,” she says. “My mom moved to the US with a 6th grade education from Mexico and now has her master’s degree. Seeing her raise four kids and still manage to get a master’s degree—there are no excuses for me.”

For Patricia and her siblings, Making Waves helped provide a pathway to college. “My mom always pushed education in our family, but we didn’t really know how to achieve that. It was always a big cloud we didn’t know how to get to but knew we wanted to,” she says. “My mom enrolled my siblings in Making Waves, that’s how they got the idea to go to college. Even just knowing that college is a possibility is because of Making Waves.”

Through Making Waves and the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Patricia will be supported through college and beyond. “There was a college counselor at Making Waves Academy who encouraged me to apply to the Gates Millennium scholarship. I didn’t want to because it required writing ten essays,” she says. After more encouragement from her teacher, however, she finished the application. “I ended up getting the scholarship, which fully funds my entire educational career for ten years, so I can get a master’s degree too. If it wasn’t for Making Waves, I wouldn’t have gotten that. It’s a relief to know I don’t have to burden my family with any financial issues.”

After college, Patricia looks forward to recycling her success in the tech industry. Her dream job is “to work for a tech company that promotes social good while being created by people who care about it and represents the people they serve,” she says. “I’m excited to give back and be a mentor to other women and people of color in tech. I have a mentor at Amazon who talks a lot about what it’s like to be a person of color in the tech culture and how he navigates that, which has really helped me.”

Patricia’s commitment to recycling her success reflects her pride in the Richmond community. “I’ve always been really proud of being from a city—which despite the fact it has a negative reputation—continues to have a strong culture. Richmond has a really good way of forming communities among challenges and overcoming things in that way,” she says. “Their motto of ‘pride and purpose’ is something I’ve always carried with me in everything I do.”