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Interview with Fernanda Sulantay-PhD Candidate at Yale & Latinas in STEM Advocate

Fernanda grew up in El Salvador and moved to the U.S. at 19 years old. It was hard for her to acclimate because the culture was VERY different, the people were less friendly, the weather was too cold, and she couldn't communicate effectively in English. She spoke a little bit of English before coming to the U.S, but when she started school, she was placed in ESL classes. After a few months studying English, she forced herself to go back to school, despite being afraid that her English would not be up to par.

Her academic journey began at a community college, but then graduated with her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering. She is continuing her educational journey by pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Yale. When she is not researching in her lab or studying, she influences her Latinx community on social and is raising her baby boy.

Her go-getter personality has resulted in many accomplishments, but one of the most incredible things about her is how humble she remains. It has been so cool becoming her virtual friend! In this interview, she shares her habits, advice, and even some of the cool tech she hopes to see come to life!

What advice would you tell a recent graduate to ignore?

Recent graduates might be tempted to take any job that offers the biggest compensation. I understand that there is pressure to find a job right away, but if you really want to be happy, there are so many other things to consider. For one, you should think about the culture and see if it's the right fit for you. And sometimes, it might be more beneficial to take a position you don’t really care about in a company you like because you can always grow within the company.

What is something you tell yourself when you feel defeated?

When I feel defeated, I think back at all the times where I actually did it, and It reminds me that I can overcome any obstacle. I don’t know if it was the culture that I grew up in, but I believe that if you really want to do something, you will make it happen, and if not, you will make excuses.

After becoming your virtual friend, I’ve watched how supportive you are and the endless resources you share. Why is that so important to you?

I think that helping people, in general, is very much my personality. I love helping people and sharing all the things I know because I hope that someone would help me when I am struggling. If I know of a great resource or knowledge that I think can help people, I will go out of my way to tell everyone. When I think back, people didn’t really help me get resources, so now, I just want to share anything and everything!

Also, in El Salvador, the culture was very collaborative. At first, I thought it was the opposite in the U.S., but now I’ve seen that it is possible to find people that help each other out.

What are some habits you think contributed to your success?

The first thing is that I tend to have a positive mindset. When I look back at my life and see the obstacles, I remember always looking at the positive side things. I realize that I tend to be more productive when I’m positive and have a positive mindset.

Second, I’ve learned how to manage my time effectively. Even before having a baby, I managed my time wisely because I still wanted to go out, haha. I liked to go out a lot when I was in college, so I knew that I had to manage my time to do the fun stuff.

And the last thing would have to be that I am very resourceful. You can always do something alone, but it will be more challenging than getting help from someone who was already in that position. I seek out any resources that can help make things easier on me.

What technology are you excited to see come to fruition?

I’m a huge environmentalist. I love helping the environment and thinking of ways to help our planet. So, one problem that I am excited to see technology solve is the water crisis. I used to think to myself, “We have so much water in the ocean, why can’t we just use that” I learned that there’s actually a really small percentage of water that is actually drinkable, and we are wasting it. One of the ways that we can use ocean water for it to be drinkable is through

Desalination. It’s currently really expensive to do this, but reverse osmosis is one way tech is helping.

Reverse osmosis technology can remove salts and other contaminants from undrinkable water and transform it into safe, consumable water. The most basic osmosis setup requires a container that separates contaminated water and pure water with a semipermeable membrane.

Researchers are finding solutions to this crisis, so this is one technology I am excited to see come to life.

What is your favorite quote?

“You never fail until you stop trying” by Albert Einstein. Some people don’t want to do things because they are afraid of failure, but you fail by default because you are not even trying. I think we should just try things out instead of living with the regret of not doing it because if you try and “fail,” you will still come out with lessons.

In research, you have to embrace failure because you’re constantly running experiments. I have to get used to it not working until it does.

She creates awesome content -follow on her socials:

Instagram: @fernsulantay


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