Elizabeth Torres de Jesús

Incoming Aerospace Engineering PhD Student, University of Illinois

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You don't have to be the best to be able to participate in whatever STEM field you want.

What do you do?

I'll be studying scale interaction in turbulent boundary layers in wall-bounded flows, which will be done in a setup inside a wind tunnel. Turbulence is an important subject in engineering because it's not well understood by the science and engineering community, yet it's something recurring in nature and affects things such as how aircraft performs, weather predictions, and combustion processes.

Why did you choose this field?

When I was in high school, I was not really sure what I wanted to do afterwards. I had good grades, played the violin in an orchestra, and was taking advanced math courses but orientation was lacking. By chance, I ended up at the Mechanical Engineering booth at my alma mater's (University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez) open house. The exhibits the students had intrigued me enough to search online into what Mechanical Engineering entailed and liked that harmony between creativity and science/math. Once there, I was not sure I was going to stay in that major but volunteering for a special project exposed me to aerodynamics. As a freshman, it intrigued me how trivial it seemed to study how air interacts with objects yet it was a whole field people studied. Eventually I ended up meeting my undergraduate research professor, who introduced me to turbulence and experimental research using wind tunnels. After having internships at research institutions and industries, I decided I wanted to pursue grad school and dedicate my skillset as an engineer to research. Now I'll be starting a PhD, which is a journey I'm excited about but aware of the challenge it will be.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I think younger me would be proud of how well I've managed my failures. From getting my firsts F's in exams to having to drop a course, she would've been amazed to see that was not the end of the world. Also, going through a lot of personal pain and recognize emotional boundaries: when to take breaks, cry, and when to push harder and assert myself have been different things I've been learning and getting better little by little which I didn't realize back then were important for a successful and happy life.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I graduated in December from my bachelors, and since January I've been on a break from engineering-related work until I start my PhD in the Fall. This break has made me realize I miss doing experiments in wind tunnels the most! Setting the equipment, being resourceful when mounting it, and analyzing the data afterwards is something I enjoy a lot.

Best advice for next generation?

You don't have to be THE best to be able to participate in whatever STEM field you want. For women, people of color, and overall underrepresented minorities, the opportunities have been expanded to us throughout the years because of the trailblazers that literally outdid everyone around them back in the day. There's a quote by Theodore Von Kármán that says "A scientist studies what is, whereas an engineer creates what never was.", and to create a better world I think we need as many thinking heads from as many different backgrounds as possible, and that they should all feel comfortable and validated enough to voice their ideas.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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