Sara Lanctot didn’t move to Santa Fe from Sonora, Mexico in 2012 thinking to earn a third college degree and change her career—but in 2018, Lanctot turned to Santa Fe Community College to pursue a lifelong dream she had thought impossible: becoming a mechanical engineer.
“I think I have a scientific mind. I like to know the why of things. Why does this happen? How can I build this up? How can I repair this? I think that I always had that mind. I just did not have the guts to go through that career,” Lanctot tells SFR on one of the back patios of SFCC.
Lanctot first moved to Santa Fe when she was about 22 years old, already with two degrees in international business and business administration. She worked in banking and bought a house on the Southside, before deciding to take the risk to completely restart her career at 30 years old.
People criticized her for it, but she managed to pull together a full-ride scholarship—and now she is one of only 499 other community college students selected to attend the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Onsite Experience at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama in September.
As part of her participation with NCAS, she designed a robotic Mars rover she named “Ladybug” during a five-week course over the summer. She worked roughly 45 hours a week on her prototype.
The experience is funded by the Minority University Research and Education Program, which supports minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
At the end of the four days, just one of the students will be selected for a summer internship at NASA.
Lanctot hopes to be “that one” picked for the internship. Either way, she plans to attend the University of New Mexico or New Mexico Tech to complete her bachelor’s degree once she has finished her core courses at SFCC.
While Lanctot says that the engineering and computer science classes she is in now have an equal number of men and women, New Mexico has the largest gender disparity in the country—22.5% between men and women with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. The state overall has seen only a 2.3% increase in gender parity since 2015, which puts New Mexico among the states making the least progress towards narrowing the STEM degrees gap, according to data from The STEM Gap in America.
Miguel Maestas, Lanctot’s mentor and an engineering technology professor at SFCC, tells SFR that women tend to be his better students and that he has also noticed an increase in female attendance in his classes.
According to data provided by SFCC, the number of women with majors in engineering has increased since 2014. In the spring of 2014, 16% of engineering majors were women. In the spring of 2018, 37% were female.
“I think sometimes men just take it for granted that it’s science, it’s math and they just do what they do without actually taking the extra step,” Maestas says. “It seems that the women, coming from a culture where it’s dominated by men, they shouldn’t have to work harder, but they do. It shows in the quality of their work.”
Maestas thinks that SFCC and higher education institutions throughout the state need to do more outreach to increase gender and race diversity in STEM fields.
“We need to do a lot more outreach … starting in elementary school. Hopefully that will create a more equitable attitude where gender and race stops being one of those things that becomes a stopping block,” Maestas explains.
Lanctot’s advice to other women who are considering pursuing a career in a STEM field:
“As a Mexican, I know how hard it is to get those opportunities. If you see an open door to do something, just go for it. Doesn’t matter what people think about you. Doesn’t matter if others criticize you for it. Just go into it because you never know where that door is going to take you later on… Just go for it.”