Interview Series
 
Diversity in STEM with Jennifer Castillo
Jennifer Castillo

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force present Diversity in STEM, with Jennifer Castillo, WIEC Chair 2021 (appointed), R9 Secretary and Governance Committee Chair (2020-2021), WIE Committee Member-at-large (2019-2020), PR&C Section TA Chair (2020). R9 Industry Engagement AdHoc Committee Chair (2019), PR&C Section Chair (2018-2019). WIE MD Subcommittee Chair 2017-2018, PR&C Section YP Coordinator 2018, PR&C SAC coordinator 2017, PR&C WIE Section Chair 2016 (and founder), Colombia IAS Chapter Chair 2012-2013, Colombia YP Chair 2010-2011, Colombia WIE Colombia Section Founder, among other positions in IEEE starting in 2004 in San Buenaventura University as WIE Chair, and SB Chair.

We are thrilled to bring you our discussion on her contributions and leadership as a volunteer with IEEE Computer Society.

Why did you choose your current technical field?

Jennifer CastilloEven since I can remember, I was very curious about how things worked, my mom had to I buy the outlets caps (imported at the time in Colombia) because I would try to “explore”. Naturally, I choose a career in a technical field, and in Mechatronics Engineer, I saw a discipline with a good future and that fulfilled my interests in process automation and robotics at the time. Once I was a Young Professional, the business development position opportunity arose, and with my technical background, was a good mix for the field I am currently at my company, Parker Hannifin.

What’s been your greatest challenge and your greatest reward in your professional career?

Jennifer CastilloThe greatest challenge may have been finding my first job. I was dismissed from one only a half-day after I began because I was a woman. That day I realized we had a long path to go yet, and I should keep on going with my volunteering in WIE. After it, there have been some others, but after that rough start, it has been possible for me to navigate them.

 

Gladly, there have been many rewards, and highlighting one is difficult, but maybe one of the greatest rewards came also at the beginning of my career, in what I count as my real first job. After 6 months of being there, I was included in a trainee program and I had the opportunity to live almost one year in Brazil, growing as a professional and as a person, learning a new language, and paving the path I have followed since then to be where I am in Parker Hannifin.

What have you found rewarding about being an IEEE and/or Computer Society member and/or volunteer?

Jennifer CastilloI am a true believer that being a volunteer makes IEEE membership absolutely rewarding. Some personal experiences:

  • IEEE was key to getting my first real job, due to the leadership and administrative experience gathered in the student branch, and due to a large event, I co-organized. When I was compared to the other candidates, that gave me the edge.
  • After being part of the VoLT (Volunteer Leadership Training), I got more tools for my professional growth than I could ever get in paid training. From how to deal with difficult people, to understanding who am I in a team and how to get the advantage of what I can offer, and where can I improve.
  • Outreach is always rewarding for me: the IEEE WIE STAR program was one of the key reasons why I joined IEEE while in the University and reading some of the stories of people who benefited from it, is absolutely fulfilling.

 

In general, being a volunteer offers opportunities to serve, and as we serve we understand other needs, we grow, we get to leadership positions to realize we will always be serving. I find this a great way to keep our feet in the ground and understand how can we advance technology for humanity.

While a member of the Computer Society/IEEE, what experience has impacted you the most?

Jennifer CastilloThe aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico was through a massive power outage, we did not have communications, and it was devastating. After only two weeks, a team of volunteers and IEEE staff members from New York, California, India, and Puerto Rico joined to make “Together we can: Project Bright” come into a reality.

We manage to raise donations through the IEEE Foundation and help the people in Puerto Rico with solar lanterns, extremely useful under those conditions.

Besides how impacted I was by the commitment of the team outside the US, I was astonished by the volunteers in Puerto Rico: people without electricity in their homes, giving away the aid because we knew we would be connected to the grid before the communities we were visiting.

This did not only show me the difference we can make through IEEE but the material or our volunteers, of society.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to early career professionals?

Jennifer CastilloWork hard and play hard. While it is important to commit to your career, be accountable, and understand what will take you to the next level, it is also important to live other experiences and have hobbies: Travel, read, exercise!

As we get older, it is very easy to lose the work/life balance. If you learn to respect that in the early years of your career, you will grow with the habit of giving your best at your job or start-up while giving your best to yourself. It pays off.

What's your best advice for individuals who are ready to make a change in their careers?

Jennifer CastilloIt is important to plan, it is important to assess, it is important to understand the consequences, but you can lose opportunities if you remain in those stages and do not move forward. At some point you need to decide to go for it: doing nothing is also a decision whether we acknowledge it or not, and may not be the best one at times.


Currently, I am in a new position, very outside my comfort zone and that is a risk: It is not easy, you cannot plan everything, and you cannot anticipate everything, but you will grow, I know I am growing.

What advice would you give to someone seeking a mentor or more professional guidance?

Jennifer CastilloGO FOR IT! But understand that there are different types of mentors. There are people willing to develop a great and long-lasting relationship with you and in that case, both parties should be committed and there should be good chemistry, do not force it.

There are others that are the “shooting stars” mentors: you do not need to be that close, but most of the time you look up to them and they will reply to your questions here and there. Embrace it.

And there are the ones that can become your Sponsors: you may not find many of those. These are the ones that will open doors for you, will speak on your behalf in meetings, and in general, will give you opportunities to grow. Value them, and do your best to show you deserve their trust.

Last but not least: do not waste their time, the only one that will be affected by it, is you. Listen and use what you are learning. It is fair to feel that not all the advice are aligned with you, and you can talk about it, together you will find what is best for you

What podcasts do you currently listen to?

Jennifer Castillo

  • Women at Work: HBR. Gives many tools to navigate the challenges that may come with professional growth, life balance, etc.
  • Desarrollo Profesional: Mattia Pantalonu. Great 15 minutes podcasts focused on professional development. It is in Spanish.
  • DianaUribe.fm. Diana Uribe is a Colombian chronicler, and the podcasts go from the origin of specific cultures to taking trips “together” around the world. It is in Spanish.

 

What book are you currently reading?

Jennifer CastilloThe Moment of Lift – Melinda Gates. This is eye opening, we have so much to learn, and a very long way to go in terms of empowering women. Los Reyes Malditos II: I am just in the second book, but this is such an interesting story!

And I would like to add a TV Series here, just because it has been an absolute surprise, and because I feel we need things like that in such a challenging moment we are going through as humanity: Ted Lasso! (apple TV). It is kindness at its best, you will giggle and you will end up with a warm heart. Enjoy!


About Jennifer Castillo:

WIEC Chair 2021 (appointed), R9 Secretary and Governance Committee Chair (2020-2021), WIE Committee Member-at-large (2019-2020), PR&C Section TA Chair (2020). R9 Industry Engagement AdHoc Committee Chair (2019), PR&C Section Chair (2018-2019). WIE MD Subcommittee Chair 2017-2018, PR&C Section YP Coordinator 2018, PR&C SAC coordinator 2017, PR&C WIE Section Chair 2016 (and founder), Colombia IAS Chapter Chair 2012-2013, Colombia YP Chair 2010-2011, Colombia WIE Colombia Section Founder, among other positions in IEEE starting in 2004 in San Buenaventura University as WIE Chair, and SB Chair.

 

Main Achievements

Regions:

  • Co-organized the two RM2020
  • Lead the update the Region’s Bylaws and Operations Manual.
  • Co-organized the first IEC Forum – Concapan 2019

Regions:

  • Co-organized the two RM2020
  • Lead the update the Region’s Bylaws and Operations Manual.
  • Co-organized the first IEC Forum – Concapan 2019

PRC Section:

  • Lead DL presentations during 2020
  • Lead the first 3 editions of the Section Student Branch Meeting
  • Co-organizer of the first YP Summit
  • Co-lead Project Together We Can – Bright: Hurricane Maria’s disaster response (R9 Best Achievement Award in 2018)

Columbia Sections:

  • Lead the first GOLD Summit in 2010 (first in R9)
  • Lead the first 3 editions of the Women in Engineering

Awards and Recognitions:

  • MGA GOLD Achievement award, 2010
  • IEEE Region 9 Theodore Hissey award, 2017
  • Regional Director Discretionary Award in 2019
  • IEEE Region 9 Outstanding Volunteer Award “Oscar C. Fernandez”, 2020

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