Seeing my identity as a strength in Biotech
by Yeilyn Colón Rodríguez
As a woman in engineering, I have always taken pride in paving my own way. I was always the only girl or one of very few girls interested in science fairs while in grade school and high school, and in college, I was one of the very few women in engineering and the only Hispanic woman in my classes. Being in an environment without mentors who could truly relate to me was something I was used to and I took it as a personal token of success when I overcame obstacles regardless of that lack of mentorship. This helped me develop resilience, problem-solving, and observational skills early on that I then used to help other students in similar situations, as well as in the classroom or lab. Whether it was a school science fair, a college laboratory course, or now in my current job, coming from a different background as a woman of color in STEM has always provided me the opportunity to engage different perspectives necessary for solving complex problems.
After pursuing a dual bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Chemical engineering, I was hired at a startup company in Chicago, Illinois called Hazel Technologies, Inc. I work with a small team of intelligent scientists to develop and produce post-harvest technologies designed to extend the shelf life of fresh produce. My role shifts between synthesis, wet chemistry, and quality control, working on anything from analyzing gas chromatography data to developing products and engineering ways to manufacture them in the most efficient way possible, to testing said products on fresh produce to determine their efficacy. As one can imagine, every single step to innovate, test, manufacture, and scale up production of a new product requires collaboration, teamwork, direction, working knowledge of the task at hand, and problem-solving skills.
In particular, speaking Spanish has given me a career advantage. I am the only Hispanic woman in the small company and the only person who can speak and write in Spanish fluently. Even though my job title is a Production Scientist II, my role includes being a liaison between the company and Spanish-speaking customers here and abroad. I work closely with our patent agent to assist her in problems regarding regulation and registration of our products. Having a different mother tongue makes me a more valued employee because I can communicate with potential customers in Latin American countries and open new business opportunities for the company. Our diverse customer base includes people who may or may not be able to speak English fluently. Oftentimes, even customers who can speak English would rather talk to me than my coworkers because of an implied closeness in both of us being Hispanic. All in all, the difference in my background from that of my colleagues has given me career development opportunities I would not have had otherwise.
YEILYN COLÓN RODRÍGUEZ
She was born and raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. She completed a dual degree in Chemistry and Chemical and BIomolecular Engineering in Saint Mary's College and the University of Notre Dame. During college, she had extensive research and work experience through internships in Northwestern University as a formulator in SC Johnson among others. She is currently a production scientist for Hazel Technologies.