Jorge Lara Alvarado was born in Mexico City, in a neighborhood where violence and drug trafficking was a part of his everyday life. His family didn’t have much money—his mother did not finish elementary school and his dad high school. Because of their experiences and struggles, Lara Alvarado’s parents wanted better for their children so they sacrificed and worked hard to provide for their family. Lara Alvarado remembers growing up with his parents repeatedly telling him and his sister that the only way to make it out of their environment of violence and overcome poverty was through education. It was a lesson that Lara Alvarado struggled to learn.
In his early life he did not stand out as a model student.
“I was a troubled kid,” he says. “I did not have role models or the rules necessary to process trauma, so I coped by turning my emotions inward. My lowest grades were in high school. After this, my parents stopped supporting me. I quickly found myself struggling since work opportunities were scarce and the threat of violence became too real.”
From STEM to STEAM
The turning point in his life came when Lara Alvarado decided he couldn’t continue in the environment he was born into. He made changes in himself and in his situation, which included moving to the United States. In the process Lara Alvarado reframed his thinking and how he saw himself.
And now, after a nearly 15-year push, he is set to graduate from Seattle University next year with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. He is a member of the Alfie and Bannan scholar groups and poised to pursue a master’s in structural engineering after graduation.
“As a person who embodies multiple target-identities—immigrant, male POC (person of color), Latinx—I have experienced barriers that prevent human flourishing in the shape of racism and discrimination,” he says. “[But] throughout my time in the U.S., I’ve met folks who have become part of my support system and showed me the power of community—chosen family, friends, mentors. It was because of their support—use of their privilege to grant me access to resources and actions to provide me with a sense of safety and belonging—that I’ve been able to work hard to bring my dreams to fruition. My success is a product of my grit and determination as well as the efforts of my community to knock down barriers created by oppressive and xenophobic social forces.”
Inclusion in tech
“What we’re seeing when the culture is changing—when our work culture is becoming more inclusive, when culture does not support biases or harassment, when people feel free to work and express their ideas, when they feel valued in what they are doing—they are more likely to be productive, to be happy and to persist in their careers,” says Dr. Teodora Shuman, professor and chair of the mechanical engineering department at Seattle University. Professor Shuman and her colleagues were recently awarded a $2 million National Science Foundation RED grant that will allow SU’s College of Science and Engineering to implement a new approach to teaching engineering. The college will study how students’ identities change along the way. The hope is that the grant’s outcomes will have a positive impact on all students, especially women and underrepresented minorities.
“The tech sector, right now, is the place of the future with lots of changes happening that are fueling our whole society,” Shuman says. “What happens in tech is important and diffuses into other aspects of daily lives. If we don’t make these positive cultural changes in tech, we are really disadvantaging a lot of people who could be working in the field … if the workplace were more equitable.”
Many of those who graduate with science, math and tech degrees have entered the workforce and attested to the importance of “soft skills” in growing their careers. The Association of American Colleges & Universities conducted surveys of business leaders and uncovered that employers say graduates’ abilities to be creative, work well in teams and communicate clearly are more important than field-specific knowledge.
Lara Alvarado is interested in practicing engineering with mindfulness. For him, building bridges holds literal and figurative meaning. He remembers being captivated by the structure, beauty and grandeur of bridges when he was younger. He also remembers thinking about their function as linkages that touch two different locations together.
Today, he has learned how to design and build his own bridges through relationships and human connection.
And this is how Lara Alvarado wants to use his STEM education—engineering rooted in social justice. Ultimately he would like to become a teacher.
“At SU, humanity and social science classes are integrated into our degree curriculum,” he says. “As an Alfie Scholar, I took courses centered around civility such as philosophy and ethical reasoning. These classes have broadened my perspective and provoked curiosity. The way this becomes part of my engineering degree is being an engineer who is mindful of the humanity of people around me. I work hard to be a feminist, anti-racist, pro-mental health advocate within my field. I am constantly checking myself to do this, not from a savior or hero perspective, but because I want to create sustainable, positive change.”
Seattle University develops the human potential by educating the heart and the mind while empowering leaders for the innovation economy and who are committed to building a better future for all.