Jocelyn has a message for women in STEM: “You’re here because you deserve to be.”
“There’s still a lot of negative stigma about why women are in tech,” explains the senior Computer Science major at Illinois. “There’s still a lot of, ‘Oh, you’re just here because you’re a girl’ or ‘You’re just here because you’re an underrepresented minority.’”
Which is why Jocelyn, who understands firsthand the burden this stigma places on college students, has joined the movement to change it.
Originally from Mexico, Jocelyn came to the United States the summer before her junior year of high school. She and her mother and sister were planning to spend some time in Chicago while her father continued to work in Mexico.
“My mom had some family here, and she lived here when she was younger. My sister was born here,” Jocelyn says. “So we were just going to come here to get better at English for a year.”
During that time, Jocelyn was surrounded by classmates entrenched in the college search process. When inevitably considering her own future, she and her parents couldn’t help but compare the quality of higher education in the States to that of their home country.
“It was a family decision to stay, because I would have better opportunities here than I would in Mexico,” she says.
Jocelyn was well aware of everything her family was giving up for her in that moment. In fact, it has been the driving force behind how she’s approached her college experience since.
“They’re making all these sacrifices being apart—my dad is still in Mexico,” Jocelyn says. “I was like, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I have to make the most out of it.’”
She certainly has. Jocelyn’s recent accomplishments include being named the president of Women in Computer Science, a prominent student group on campus, and nabbing a highly coveted summer internship at Microsoft. Upon graduating next December, she plans to join the Microsoft team full-time.
Even with Jocelyn’s firm motivation, her success hasn’t come easy.
Before arriving on campus her junior year, Jocelyn started at Wilbur Wright College as part of City Colleges of Chicago Pathway, a guaranteed transfer program at Illinois.
“I did this program because it was saving a lot of money my first two years, going to community college,” she explains. “I also didn’t really think I was ready for a big transition into a four-year university. It was nice to stay with my family for an extra two years and slowly get that independence.”
When it was time for her first semester at Illinois, however, Jocelyn struggled to adjust.
“A lot of the knowledge that people had here I didn’t really have, so oftentimes I felt like I was behind in a lot of concepts,” she says. “It was also hard for me to make friends because I feel like I didn’t really connect with anyone. They already had their groups.”
Determined to make a change, Jocelyn sought out campus resources to help. One of them happened to be Women in Computer Science, which provides a support network for those interested in pursuing a career in the field.
“I went into it and tried to be really, really involved,” she says. “My second semester, I joined a committee and made friends with the girls there. That helped me a lot with not feeling like an outlier anymore—like, ‘Now I have people to rely on, I have people to hang out with.’”
Joining Women in Computer Science was the turning point in Jocelyn’s Illinois experience.
The group gave her a space on campus devoid of judgement and filled with encouragement, and its office in Siebel Center quickly became her second home. Even when she wasn’t meeting with her committee or volunteering at events, she could be found doing her homework or studying with other members there.
By the end of the school year, she knew the organization inside and out—so well, in fact, that the officers chose her to lead its next class.
“I was kind of struck that I got president, just because it was my first year here. I felt like no one really knew me,” admits Jocelyn. “But I really enjoy it. I feel like I’ve found my place.”
Now that she’s found that place, she wants to share it with others.
“This is my time to give back and bring in other girls who might feel the same way as I did and just be like, ‘Hey, we’re here for you. You might feel like you don’t belong here, but you do.'”
As part of this endeavor, Jocelyn is especially focused on providing a supportive environment for underserved populations.
“There’s still a long way to go for diversity in tech,” she says. “We’re reaching a better ratio of female to male, but there’s still a big issue in terms of underrepresented minorities. And it’s not just race … there’s also disabilities, there’s socioeconomic status.”
For Jocelyn, such challenges are opportunities for change, and they’re worth taking on.
“It’s a great field to be in,” she says, “and it’s a very empowering field to be in if you find the right people.”
Whether she knows it or not, Jocelyn is one of those people empowering others in STEM. She may be fresh in the field, but she’s already improving it for future generations through her message of strength and belonging.
We have a message for Jocelyn, too: Not only do you deserve to be here, but we’re lucky to have you.