CAMBRIDGE, MA—As demand grows for workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), underrepresented minorities have become a vital but largely untapped resource. Nearly 67% of U.S. scientists and engineers are white. And, despite comprising 26% of the workforce, African Americans and Hispanics represent only 11% of all STEM employees.
Draper, as an engineering innovation company, views workforce diversity as a strategic differentiator. Research has shown that diverse teams can develop more innovative ideas. When people from different contexts work together, their unique perspectives often lead to greater creativity.
In order to ensure not only Draper’s but the world’s most innovative companies have the best talent pool possible from which to draw a workforce, Draper is committed to providing career- and skill-enhancing internships for underrepresented minorities pursuing advanced degrees in STEM. To that end, Draper is building on a relationship with the National GEM Consortium, an organization that for more than 40 years has helped underrepresented minority students enroll and succeed in graduate-level higher education. In 2019, Draper is sponsoring three GEM Fellows—Marisol Castellanos, Gavin Gonzales and Valeria Saro-Cortes.
Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities at Draper, says this year’s honorees reflect the diversity, ingenuity and remarkable talent found within the STEM community. “Each of these outstanding students is making significant contributions to fields ranging from neurodegenerative diseases, to low-power refrigeration, to prosthetic heart valves.”
Draper excels at providing students with experiential learning. Since 1973 the company has sponsored the Draper Fellow Program, which has supported more than 1,000 graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in engineering and the sciences. The program supports M.S. and Ph.D. study and includes tuition and a stipend. Students must be accepted to and matriculate at a participating university. The company sponsored its first class of GEM Fellows in 2018.
Partnering with the National GEM Consortium supports Draper’s mission, says Chris Yu, Software and Algorithms Engineering Director, who also manages the GEM Fellowship Program at Draper. “GEM Fellows include many of the most highly sought underrepresented minorities attending STEM field graduate programs across the country,” he said.
The three engineers that Draper is welcoming this year as GEM Fellows are:
Marisol Castellanos is pursuing an M.S. in biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California. Castellanos’s area of interest is to develop biomedical applications for neurodegenerative diseases. Her work at Draper focused on developing and testing wireless transistorless neuro-stimulators for neuromodulation of individual pelvic floor muscle activity in urinary incontinence and the treatment of hypertension.
Gavin Gonzales is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Duke University. With an area of interest in biomaterials and biomechanics, Gonzales’s work at Draper focused on characterization of heart valve annulus tissue to guide the design of prosthetic heart valves.
Valeria Saro-Cortes is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a focus on fluid-structure interaction of multimedia biomimetic robotics. While at Draper, Saro-Cortes developed new fabrication methods for thermoelectric materials and used those materials to enhance electricity generation from thermal sources (including waste heat) and to develop new low-power refrigeration systems.