Like many REC Foundation (RECF) mentors, Yazmin Rivera got into robotics with little prior experience after her school’s STEM teacher departed and she was asked to fill in for the position. Despite this inexperience, she quickly became intrigued after attending an RECF training. Her curiosity was reinforced by her relationship with her father, an auto mechanic, who supported her interest and quickly became Yazmin’s sounding board when she felt stuck on mechanical issues. Her passion for robotics is now a family affair, and her siblings and parents can often be found helping out in various capacities at local tournaments.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with Yazmin, and spoke with her about her role as a math teacher and robotics mentor at an all-girls school in El Paso, Texas, as well as how her Hispanic background helped push her forward in her profession.
RECF: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you have a background in robotics?
Yazmin: My name is Yazmin Rivera, and I have lived in the El Paso, TX area all my life. I currently serve as a math teacher for sixth and seventh grade students at a 6-12 grade school.
In terms of robotics, I had no experience prior to getting involved at my school. After the previous STEM instructor left, they asked me if I wanted the position and if I wanted to start a robotics club. I reluctantly agreed to do it on the condition that I got some training, and here I am today. Honestly the best part about it was the fact that it got me closer to my dad, because he’s a mechanic, and loves to tinker and fix things, which you do a lot of in robotics.
RECF: So did your dad get into robotics after you got involved in RECF programs?
Yazmin: (Laughs) Yes, my dad absolutely loves it. I’ll bring home a robot that I’ve been working on with the girls, and he will look it over and tell me how he thinks the design could be improved.
We’re obviously student centered, and he gives me the perspective to guide the girls a little bit, but it’s so special because I get to hear his thoughts - it's been a huge bonding experience. Our girls, some of whom might not have that relationship with their dads, can see the positive relationship I’ve made with my father through robotics.
RECF: That’s wonderful. I know you’re heavily invested in the Girl Powered program. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yazmin: I started taking my own girls to Girl Powered events in 2018 and they loved it. Learning more about coding, building, and also hearing from other women in STEM from our region helped create a connection and allowed them to feel that there is a path forward for women like them. Seeing themselves in those women, especially those individuals who are already breaking barriers and pave those paths is so important. So I think Girl Powered is incredibly motivating. This year we’re hosting our third annual Girl Powered event for middle school and elementary school girls, and around 500 attend every year. I'm very thankful to everyone in the region that allows these girls to miss some school time to come over and learn a little bit more about STEM.
RECF: It sounds like you’ve found a lot of success in that program despite societal barriers that often prevent girls from getting involved in STEM. Where do you find the inspiration and motivation to help level the playing field in STEM for women and girls?
Yazmin: It might be stereotypical, but I believe my heritage, and my culture as a Mexican-American, is about moving forward no matter what. You keep fighting, and no matter how tired you become, no matter how tedious something may be, you persist. My culture is such that we have created a sense of family unity where everyone comes together to support you and keep going. I have tried to instill these values in my students as well - that heritage of pushing forward with determination and persistence. I want them to apply those ideas to everything they do.