In this week’s spotlight is Maddie Foster Martinez, a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Maddie has been a long time supporter of Iridescent through her amazing work at our NYC Science Studio and beyond! This year she is virtually mentoring a team in Jirapa, Ghana. We sat down with her to learn about her team and more.
Can you tell us how you first learned about Iridescent, and what your involvement was like from the beginning?
My favorite professor from college, Professor Toby Cumberbatch, first told me about Iridescent. One of his former students had recommended him to Tara as a good contact for expanding Iridescent to New York. I love engineering but part of me has always wanted to become a teacher so when I heard about the Engineers as Teachers program, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. We ran a pilot Family Science Night the next semester, and within the blink of an eye, Iridescent New York was established and flourishing.
What made you decide to become a mentor for Technovation this year?
Again, I owe it to Professor Cumberbatch. He told me he was bringing computers and cellphones to St. Francis, a school for girls in Jirapa, Ghana, so they could participate in Technovation. I immediately thought it was a great idea that would benefit both the girls from St. Francis and the Technovation program. Having spent two summers living in Jirapa, I am familiar with the area and the school and was lucky enough to be picked for the job of mentor.
What has it been like mentoring a team in Jirapa, Ghana, virtually? What have you learned so far?
To be honest, it has been extremely frustrating and eye-opening to see how hindered the girls are by the lack of resources and infrastructure. They would like to be working more often and to connect with the other teams, but electricity and the internet are not always available. Whenever we are able to connect, they are super excited about programming and being inventors.
Can you tell us a story about a time you struggled in school, or professionally, and what you did to overcome it?
During college, I applied for a summer research position in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware. I was so excited when I was accepted to the oceanography division. I just couldn’t wait to do research on the ocean, but when I got there, I was informed that my entire project would be computer programming. I was devastated and super anxious. I had never programmed before nor did I ever have the desire to learn, but I had no choice. I decided to stick it out and do the best I could. It was pretty frustrating at first, but by the end of the summer I was programming like a mad woman. And I liked it!
You are currently studying Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley. Can you tell us about your decision to pursue engineering as a career?
I’ve always loved the practicality of engineering, and its capacity to change the world for the better. Our society hasn’t always made the best engineering choices, especially when it comes to the environment. I chose to become an environmental engineer because I want to be a part of creating new solutions to our engineering challenges. For example, I am taking a class on ways to clean the water we use using plants and natural processes, rather than chemicals and machinery that uses electricity.
What is graduate school like? What is your favorite part?
I couldn’t be happier about my decision to go to graduate school. This past year I’ve gotten to learn about all the subjects that I’m interested in. I’m just in the beginning stages of figuring out my own research so I get to explore different topics and ideas all the time. My favorite part is being surrounded by people that are all incredibly talented and just as excited as I am to be studying engineering.
What advice do you have for Technovation girls who are new to the program?
Ask lots and lots of questions! Even more importantly, make sure you get answers you are satisfied with. I know exactly what it’s like to ask a question, get an answer, and shake your head in agreement, when really you have no idea what the person is trying to explain. That response helps no one! Make sure you get an answer you understand. Sometimes this may require you to do some digging on your own, but who knows? That question may turn into your career one day!