Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring The Sacrifice

17 Sep

“Bring something from your favorite sports team or cultural event,” said the prompt. It opened a box of deep and rich memories associated with my Dodgers. It reminded me of why I love the team so deeply and why I could never love another team as intensely.

LA Dodgers Jersey

My dad and I did not speak more than one word to each other once I turned five. He still held my hand when we walked if I reached for it – on the walks home from school when he would pick my sister and me up from elementary school. I still smiled when we stopped at the liquor store to buy his brown paper bag-covered drink and chips and a juice for us. And all throughout my child and young adulthood I still ached for his approval, for him to say something – anything – that showed me he still saw me. Somehow I knew he loved me in his own way, he was just too sad to show me. Too sad to show anything at all.

As a kid I used to break into his safe when he was away at work. I would pull out articles that he collected. Trophies, medals, and certificates of academic achievement, sports, and volunteerism that I racked up as a kid. I would flip through the pictures he kept – of me – and wonder why he kept them and if he ever looked at them. And then I found a picture of a chubby little two year old with dark hair wearing a Dodgers uniform and I knew it was me. It made my heart stop in anticipation. He bought me that uniform. Back when we spoke and hugged and openly loved one another. I wonder now if all those years I actually remembered running through the house and into his arms in that uniform, or if I just procured it out of thin air from sheer desire.

As complicated and painful as our relationship has been, I love my father deeply. My chest hurts, even at this very moment, thinking about all he sacrificed to stay here in these states that he never craved. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month I reshare the story of how my father came here to stay. And stay too long I think, so long that he lost himself.

Undocumented It All Started with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This is for all first-generation American-born children of Latinx immigrants (and immigrants everywhere) who have felt that their words and love got Lost In Translation.

Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken: Efficiency and Flexibility Lead to Higher Productivity

15 Sep

This post was sitting in my drafts for 5 years when I was still working as the Business Development Lead at Latham & Watkins running their Technology Transactions, IP & Privacy Group!

It’s nice to look back and reflect on how I thrive under a personal routine that includes waking up at 5AM. I would not have been able to accomplish everything I have if I slept in.

It was also nice to take a look at my professional rearview mirror, see what I accomplished then and what I have accomplished since then. I was so tired of constantly having to prove myself to folks – show them I could do things even without a degree. But that was exhausting and demoralizing. I make sure to remember that when interviewing candidates.

The classes I allude to below were community college classes I took while regularly working 60+ hour work weeks. If I hadn’t attended those classes, I would not have transferred to Stanford to get my CS degree and I would still be longing for a degree. Time passes whether you want to or not – why not change with it?

_______________________

Winding down from an incredibly busy Summer schedule of taking my first Computer Science class in addition to another Summer class, setting up a stay at home Summer Camp for the monkeys, revving up for my Tech group’s practice group retreat, training and generally kicking ass at work I thought – why not try to sleep in?

I am a morning person. I doubt I was naturally wired that way, I think it was more to do with my parents always being out the door by 4:30 AM to go to work while we were growing up. If I wanted a morning hug, I had to sleep on the sofa to make sure I would stir at the sound of showers, blow dryers and my mother doing dinner prep. Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of my mother bending over me on the couch, as I pretended to be asleep while inhaling deeply the calming mixture of perfume and coffee, to whisper in my ear that I could sleep on their bed. If I was up early enough, I could catch her while she put on her perfume and applied her lipstick as I snuggled up in their bed, the blankets still warm from their bodies. I would inevitably fall back asleep until my older sister would nudge me to wake up and get ready for school.

Years of that routine shaped my sleep cycle. When I got older those early mornings were replaced with early morning swim practice, then early morning work schedules, crack of dawn runs and then generally getting up early to be a mom.

So against the wisdom that I know best what works for my body I decided to listen to others and try sleeping in. Instead of my usual 5 AM alarm I woke up naturally to the sunlight prying my eyelids open. Okay maybe not naturally. It was actually pretty awful. The later I tried to sleep in, the more tired I felt. Mornings are my only free time for running and Insanity workouts so my later schedule cut into my exercise regime.

Finally I stepped onto a scale and almost levitated in shock when I saw the number (lack of exercise). The very next day, okay no the day after, I went back to an earlier wake up schedule.

I woke up at 5:30 AM and felt amazing. I got up and made myself a soy latte with my Nespresso machine and read through work email from London, I watched some YouTube tutorial videos relevant to a project I am working on and the went for a 4 mile run. I didn’t try to get back to my usual 5 – 6 mile runs without stopping. I stopped to walk when I needed to and ran when I could. It just felt so good to be out.

I felt alert and relaxed.

I got to work by 8:15 AM and jumped right into my various projects and calls.

First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #GHC19 Part 2: Planning, Strategies, Networking

10 Sep

Welcome back! Continuing with my First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper series. Make sure you read Part 1 and A non-brief Interjection Latinx in AI of the series.

Before I get chatting about the day, let’s get some strategies down first.

Sourcing sponsor events strategies:

  1. Find everyone that you know that is attending and promise to share info on company events (This didn’t help me find any events at first but I shared everything I found via Techqueria’s Grace Hopper Channel, Write/Speak/Code similar slack channel, and to friends I knew were going.
  2. Market Yourself: Include the #GHC19 tag on your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. I received invites from companies to interview, visit their booth, and/or attend their events
  3. Scour the web
    1. This by far netted me the most events. I checked Twitter, LinkedIn, and Techqueria’s slack channel regularly for #GHC19 events. I found out about the Twitter and the Google events in this way
    2. Google Github + GHC19 Events
      1. I found out about many events this way. Big thank you to the maintainers of these lists. MUCH LOVE ❤️
    3. University Student / Scholarship Recipient: Ask whoever is sponsoring to attend to forward you all events
      1. Make a groupme chat for everyone that is being similarly sponsored and share info here. I found out about dinners for small companies / startups I wanted to meet with in this manner

Remember to pace yourself during the week. The conference is shock full of programming, interview opportunities, networking, etc. It’s incredibly easy to overdo it and exhaust yourself.

What is your Definition of a Successful Conference Experience?

I cannot stress this enough. It is easy to get lost in the massive career fair, in the massive conference space, and the countless events.

Now I recognize my extreme privilege attending Stanford University. We have aggressive recruiting from top companies on campus year round. That being the case I was not interested in spending much time in the career fair or having interviews eat up my first Grace Hopper experience.

My concrete goal:

  • Meet with my top 3 companies, make a good impression, walk away with invites for interviews.
  • Practice asking companies questions about their efforts in inclusivity and trying to assess workplace culture
  • Grow my network of women in tech, particularly in the space of Artificial Intelligence

Anything else was icing on the cake.

With that in mind, let’s get talking about Day 1!

Day 3:  Wed 10/2 First Official Day of GHC, Keynote, Networking, and Sessions!

I could not sleep due to the time difference so waking up early for the keynote wasn’t a problem. It may also have had to do with rooming with someone I just met. My roommate was amazing as we were both tidy and considerate but I can’t remember the last time I had to share a room with someone I wasn’t related to or in a relationship with. Welcome to college life. 🙂

at the busI was the first one on the bus shuttle to the conference and I felt my insides shake with excitement. My plan for the day was to attend the keynote, attend 2 – 3 sessions in data science / AI, take a peek at the career fair space (I heard that the first day was the busiest time to attend as everyone is there to get invited to parties), and save energy for the company parties I had been invited to. I had Google’s Women of Color Hop Up and Twitter’s #GHCBeachBoardwalk on my calendar.

The Keynote

As I arrived to the convention center, I walked as quickly as I could to find the entrance. I was there half an hour before the keynote started and there was already a loooooong line. I have a feeling that they host this in Orlando to get you in the Disney park mindset that you will be waiting in lines all the time.

What to do while waiting? Chat up those around you of course. Now you probably won’t believe me but I am an introvert. Being in crowds, talking to people that aren’t extremely well known to me, meeting new people = EXHAUSTION. But you can’t come to a conference of 25,000 women in tech and not push those feelings of discomfort aside. What helps me is thinking that I am doing those people around me a favor by being the one to initiate the conversation and make them feel welcome. I chatted with my line neighbor, connected on LinkedIn, and shared tips on what to attend. By the time we entered the keynote hall we were looking for seats to sit together.

Nothing prepared me for the incredible energy of this room it was like the hall was a heart beating to the rhythm of creativity, inclusivity, and warmth.

Please do look up videos of the keynote. I won’t post more than the below clip to give you an idea of the vibe. Note that I was early, every seat was taken by the time the keynote started.

The keynote speakers were 🔥 🔥 🔥 on it and knew how to fire us up. From sharing the vision of AnitaB.org, vision of the companies that were honorees, and personal stories of how they got into tech – the keynote is something not to be missed.

After the keynote I made my way to the career fair area to assess how crowded it would be but the doors were still closed but a monster line ~5 people deep across had formed. I patted myself on the shoulder for avoiding the madness.

Sessions > Career Fair: Why?

When the session sign-ups were released, I tried to sign up for as many Artificial Intelligence and Data Science sessions as possible. The system froze and kicked me off a few times so I missed signing up for some of the sessions I wanted but I still filled up my days as much as possible so that I had anchors throughout the week.

My first session was D3 Data Visualization that Sparkle. I made the incredibly rookie mistake of forgetting my glasses so I made a beeline to sit on the front row table. This was a session I signed up for so I was easily scanned in. Note that about half an hour before the session started the standby line formed.

At my table I was sitting with awesome women working at Amazon, Adobe, and a consulting firm. I connected with all three of them and was able to network in a relaxed setting where we were all in attendance with a common goal – to learn. There is no way I would have had the same intimate opportunity to make an impression at the career fair. In addition, the session was organized, well structured, and educational. Up for the Win.

My second session was one of my top favorites Three Tips for Better Predictive Models presented by Stephanie Yang at Foursquare. I also showed up early and sat at the front row and turns out I sat next to Stephanie who was the presenter. I felt good pumping her up before her session and when she got ready to start I started chatting with my new neighbor and ended up connecting with her as well. The presentation provided concrete and practical guidance and I am so glad that I attended.

Lastly – Enjoy yourself! This is a gift for yourself, an investment in what you want to grow and nurture so remember to seek the events that provide meaning and community to you!

Stain on Your White Dress

9 Sep

My hands twist together

grubby, brown fingers hiding each other.

It seems selfish to mar your fragile innocence,

your crisp, white, clean slate,

with my damaged truth.

You speak of your hardships

and I listen without judgement.

But I can’t help but feel dirty in comparison

so I shuffle my feet

and I bring my arms tight against my body

my hands under my thighs,

pinching hard.

It’s my turn to speak.

My voice catches in my throat,

mingled with the swallowed past trying to escape.

Like an overflowing trash can,

I push the garbage down and I blink away the sting.

I would speak

but I don’t want to be a pesky stain,

soiling your beautiful white dress.

Or worse,

a stain that doesn’t stick

and is washed away with water.

I want to linger.

My words remain inside,

festering.

But they remain mine.

First Job: How to Prepare for Professional Success

9 Sep

A First Gen Mexican American’s perspective

Recently I posted in response to my good friend Stephanie’s LinkedIn post asking for tips for her first post-college job. I encourage you to read it and to add any advice you’d like to add! Brittanny – another incredible friend, encouraged me to make it a post of its own. Tiene razón, let’s amplify our collective wisdom!

Picture of author Susana Benavidez with arms up in discussion

How To Succeed When You Don’t Have an Example

When I got an internship during high school at a high rise in downtown Los Angeles, my chest felt tight with pride as I walked through those sliding glass doors and pushed the button for a floor high above the fields, kitchens, and factory floors that my parents spent their life working at.

I didn’t have a manual on how to succeed in a professional (office) setting but after working in a variety of office settings since I was 18, I have a thing or two to share.

Your Personal Brand

You have to cultivate your professional brand from Day 1. Your performance and the impression you make in your first 90 days is crucial to your success. For those first three months you will be able to show who you are, what you can do, and how valuable to the company you will become. You want the company to pat themselves on the back for nabbing such a great hire.

What does this mean? Working hard is not enough. You need to go above and beyond to show what you have to offer. You need to be intentional of how you work and the work product you produce.

Always be prepared. When something is pending, spend at least a few minutes reviewing it so that you know the task and status. You don’t want to be asked about the one thing you didn’t get to and be at a loss for words.

Perception is what the majority of people use to make quick decisions on your abilities and how you fit into opportunities. If you ride in strong at the beginning you will have solidified your brand as someone who delivers, is dependable, and is hungry to learn.

Remember that you are cultivating your brand at work. This isn’t a reflection of who you are at home. Personally, I like to strike a balance of offering personal details and who I am in connection to the things that I can control. For example, I will share that I had a non-traditional path and how that helped me develop a strong sense of hustle and empathy for those still on the steep end of their journey. I share the joy I get from mentoring POC who are navigating community college and the transfer process. Would I share personal details about my dysfunctional family? No, that’s for me to vent to my close friends who know me and do not judge me. Sharing those stories can put you in a state of vulnerability while surrounded by uncomfortable silence. But that is my take – not words to live by.

Finding a Mentor

When you meet new people don’t only show up with questions – see how you can help the person. Whether it be by volunteering to help, providing an introduction that would be mutually beneficial, bringing insightful feedback, etc. People gravitate towards those that they can learn from and not only teach – ie don’t have others think you’re only a taker. You always have something to teach! You have the valuable beginner’s eyes and mindset so be creative with your ideas.

Communication is Key

Efficiency and communication is key. I create mechanisms and frameworks to make what I can control as efficient as possible so that I can have the space to be creative. Ask others what their preferred style of communication is and following through on what they share.

Document Your Growth

Document your growth, questions, breakthroughs to be able to sell your accomplishments and not have to try to remember how your roadmap evolved. This can be especially rewarding when you feel like time is flying and there aren’t enough hours in the day. Take a look back and see everything you’ve accomplished! I send weekly updates on my progress to the team (in connection to a program I run) which allows them to see all the great work I am contributing.

What is your advice to your fellow gente? Comment Below!

Fireside Chat with WOC Community College Students: Sharing My Nontraditional Path

5 Sep

A Lifting Conversation: I had the honor of sharing my nontraditional path with a powerful group of WOC community college students and transfers ❤️

Ryan, one of my kindest friends connected me with Jenny Han who is working with Snap Inc. and LATech.Org to pilot a summer academy for Black and brown community college students studying computer science in the LA area.

She saw my many attempts and tour of failure in almost every LA community college 😂 The Importance of Normalizing “Failure” and Looking Back – The Path to Stanford and asked if I’d be open to speaking to a small group of WOC community college / transfer students who are studying CS. I said I’d be happy to but that I like to share my non-traditional path to show that even with all those setbacks, one can manage to get to where they want to – and how.

I was supposed to inspire them but they brought so much inspiration and energy to me. I know how hard it is to know that you are capable and able to accomplish great things but being held back by life circumstances. Ping me if you are looking for interns and would like to connect with these ladies!

Si Se Pudo?

12 Jun

A first gen/low income, mom, non-traditional undergrad perspective
B.S. Computer Science AI Track
Stanford University Class of 2020

This week was the last week of classes of the last quarter of undergrad.

For those of you with me since the early days, you know that I’ve been through so many ups and downs, and so many ups that were actually downs, and so, so many rock bottoms. Some day, I may tell you the full chisme, osea the ‘not the autobiography’ autobiography. Aveces, osea siempre, in my world, a way out is always a good thing.

But we’re here. We made it, no?

So many years of wondering if we would ever be able to say, I graduated from X college. And it just happens that our chingona self can say, “I graduated from Stanford with a mother-effin Computer Science in the AI track degree (with three kids in tow – what you do?!!)!” Okay maybe most of that will be in my head but you bet that I will be thinking it while staring down some condescending, mediocre cualquiera in the valley – not the LA valley but this fake Silicon Valley. Wait, does that translate to fake FAKE valley? 🧐

I have been whispering to myself, “just get that college degree” for so long that I never thought to think what I would tell myself once I actually got it. And maybe I’ve read too many inspiring stories of Black and Brown people that have “beat the odds”, that have “made it”, that have gone from homelessness to self-made successes. Because although I could relate to the raw pain of knowing you could make it only to be presented with a new challenge, a new way to prove yourself, I didn’t think about how lonely and angry it could make you feel.

We all love a good story. An inspiring story. But we NEVER respect, honor, nor SEE the person making that story.

We make certain people invisible in this world. We smirk, we look confused, skeptical – most of the time not bothering to try to figure the person out. We move on, we discredit their plans, we don’t believe them, we think ‘Oh okay, this person is all big talk’ if we even bother to think, or do, anything but roll our eyes. We are a cruel people. And we are a hypocritical people. Because when that person becomes “somebody”, we fall all over ourselves clapping and cheering on with tear brimmed eyes because it’s just so damn inspiring. We cheer only once the damn game has been won.

I know I’m incredibly intelligent, I’ve known that my whole life. But I’ve also had to prove that to everyone my whole life. I’ve never had the pleasure of having my answer accepted without an automatic, “are you sure? How do you know?” And that’s at the most polite end. I’ve had to politicize and strategize my words and work to manipulate those around me into thinking that my ideas were their own ideas. I’ve had to lead so many horses to water and convince the horse over and over again that they were the ones leading me. So maybe after so many years of telling myself that once I had that computer science degree from an elite university, that I would be free from that required humiliating and tiresome explanation. But now that I’m done, a sinking sensation has spread from my stomach to my chest to the bottom of my feet because even with a Stanford CS degree in the AI track – those people will keep finding a way to invalidate my accomplishments.

So forgive me for feeling tired and not feeling particularly celebratory while our country is gripped with having to explain the obvious to hateful racists and those who deny that they are racists while spouting hate out of the side of their necks.

Forgive me for feeling so fucking angry and exhausted at having to educate people that Black Lives Matter is not political. Forgive me while I recoil in disgust from White America and the communities of color that are just as racist.

I have my own experience with racism and with being judged as less intelligent or capable because my skin happens to be brown, but what makes me truly sick, what throws me into the deepest despair of depression is knowing that even with the shitty life I have experienced, is knowing that it does not compare – cannot come close to comparing to what Black Americans experience.

So no, I don’t think this is a moment to celebrate. I won’t celebrate what I’ve known all along I was capable of doing.

I will celebrate if these protests continue; if America’s short term memory can finally be seared with the present that never changes; if we do not look away until we all fight for Black Lives Matter no matter the cost to our own personal comfort.

I will celebrate when you accept that our system is fundamentally flawed. That our educational system is failing our children. And that incremental change and reform is not enough. That the broken inner city public school system is nothing more than a pipeline into stagnant water where a meek existence is considered success given the alternative is the prison system. And sure there are hairline cracks that allow a handful to escape and “make it.” But make no mistake about it, those cracks are there not by design but from the outward pressure of our own greatness trying to escape the crushing confinement of failure.

We are capable of running an equitable world.

I will celebrate when you thank us for only wanting equity.

The Most Deafening Sound is Silence

2 Jun

I’ve read too many tweets, threads, LinkedIn posts, etc. where as soon as a Black person posts about their pain there are comments by those in the Latino, Asian, and all non-Black communities that jump in and say “What about us?!” I’ve seen chats where females try to prioritize their trauma as sexual abuse/assault survivors over the Black Lives Matter movement.

I speak from the perspective of: a first-generation Mexican-American; a mother to three daughters; and as an Angeleno from Westlake / Boyle Heights / East LA. I speak as someone who was sexually, emotionally, physically abused by family throughout my childhood. I speak as a former single mother who has had to degrade herself in order to keep a roof over her kids’ head; as a domestic violence survivor; and as someone who has experienced a multitude of prejudice in the workplace/school/relationships for being what I was born as – a brown Latina.

Yet NONE of the pain from these experiences can remotely compare to the pain and racism that Black Americans have to grapple with throughout the entirety of their lives.

I am highly empathetic but I know that I can never fully comprehend the threat that Black people in America face every single day.

Like many of you, I have been on Twitter every waking hour to keep up to date with developments. And like many of you, I have woken up every single day with a crushing pain in my chest, the hurt choking me and making it hard to breathe. I am constantly lightheaded – as even my own self wants to slip out of this reality, and I have so much rage because this is not a new occurrence.

Racism is not new. Police brutality is not new.

Nor has either ever ceased to exist. Racism has actively harmed Black Americans since the founding of this country. We The Protestors tracks and visualizes all police killings since 2015. I encourage you to support their work and to see for yourself why Black Americans (and those who stand with them) are overwhelmed with the compounding effect of so many needless deaths – so many murders without consequences at the hands of police.

I used to question my own feelings as White and other non-Black people gaslighted me for my outrage, for my searing pain at the injustices that the Black community faces. But they were never in the right.

We have seen many instances on Twitter of White / non-Black Americans trying to squash the conversation around Black Lives Matter by saying that it is not appropriate to discuss racism in a professional setting or that it is unhelpful to demand of them to get involved.

They are doing what they’ve done for centuries – using their Whiteness/proximity to Whiteness and unearned power to condescendingly educate us on which is the right way to protest and not.

They continue to value the loss of property over the loss of life and pretend that they are two separate things, as if peaceful protests haven’t been carried out time and time again without producing results.

They continue to curl their lips in disgust at the vision of screaming protestors as if we were uncouth to march and stand for basic human rights and the just treatment of Black Americans. And usually (and time and time again in the past) this has worked.

But we are seeing a shift. As soon as they are called out and see the backlash that can potentially harm their property (e.g. their employment, investments, networks, etc.), they are backtracking. They are apologizing on Twitter and donating to Black organizations. I hope that they are truly remorseful and that they use their privilege to educate their networks, family, and friends. I hope that they can stop seeing themselves as “US” and Black Americans as “THEM”.

The treatment of Black Americans has not changed. America has and continues to treat Black Americans as subhuman, as not feeling pain, as criminals, as a threat, as statistics. What has changed is that the nation is breaking under the weight of racism. What has changed is that the old mainstream views are becoming uncouth, unacceptable to admit publicly, and getting close to real consequences.

Before you make yourself feel better by claiming that you are not a racist, I want to remind you that racism does not exist in extremes or a vacuum. Racism is woven into the daily lives of a Black Americans. Racism is every: micro-aggression; continual requirement for Black people to justify their credentials and ability; time they have to prove why they belong on a space that is dominated by White people, time that they are stereotyped; pulled over; ignored by their doctors; “put in their place” by teachers and counselors; followed in stores; avoided in the street; stared at; seen skeptically; face betrayal when they are subjected to racist behavior by those who they trusted as an ally (and the list goes on and on). Racism is not experienced individually but as the build up of every racist instance they’ve had to deal with that day.

While the list of ways that Black Americans experience racism in the US is non-exhaustive, there are equally many ways you should make a difference in your daily life to fight racism.

Call out the colleague/classmate/boss/professor/investor who is passive-aggressive, who blocks promotions, who speaks condescendingly, who doesn’t invite them to outside of work socializing, who doesn’t hire them, who doesn’t invite them to panels, etc.

Be an observer when you see an interaction with a police officer and use your white privilege and the safety it affords you by policing the police.

Stop your family and friends when they use racist language. Educate them and don’t use the excuse that they are a different generation and “don’t mean it like that.”

Reflect on whether you are prioritizing your fight (as a non-Black POC, LGBTQ, and/or any identity that you belong to) over the NECESSITY of saving Black lives.

Listen and don’t make statements that invalidate their experience such as “I don’t think they meant it that way” claiming that you “give everyone the benefit of the doubt” as if you are being the bigger person. Black people do not have the privilege of blindly trusting everyone and believing that they won’t be harmed.

This is overwhelming but when you want to lean away from the subject because it is “too much” or you can’t handle that much pain – remind yourself that Black Americans don’t have the privilege of distancing themselves from their daily lives.

You don’t have to have the words that makes it all better because no one expects nor believes that your words or any words can make it all better. Don’t use that as an excuse to explain why you’re not saying anything on the matter.

Your silence hurts.

Don’t leave your friends and family wondering which side of the conversation you’re on. If you are not fighting against racism, you are part of the problem.

At minimum, donate to an organization that is listed in the Minnesota Freedom Fund and publicly share your donation while asking your network to do the same.

Don’t expect your Black colleagues / classmates / students to show up as if nothing happened. They are under incredibly painful and extreme duress and should not have to prioritize your pSets, exams, reports, code, etc. over the struggle to be seen as human beings and the grief at the continued murdering of Black Americans by police with impunity.

Actively lighten the load of Black Americans. This can be advocating for your Black colleagues / classmates / students (without requiring them to participate). It includes pressuring your boss or professors to provide paid time off or make assignments and exams optional (without requiring them to reach out). That last part is key. I’ve seen professors offering accommodations IF students reach out. Don’t do that – the onus is on YOU, not them, to realize that they are not in a space to even think about your classroom (nor should they have to).

I understand that the pain many of us are feeling can make us feel numb, detached, deeply depressed but I also realize that this pain will only go away with real lasting change. Quite frankly I wish that everyone felt this pain, maybe then they would demand change if for no other reason than to stop hurting.

As a Latina I particularly ask my Latino community to accept that anti-Blackness permeates our culture and that it is our responsibility to eradicate it. Here’s what NOT to do. Don’t make this about Latinos (and don’t forget that many Latinos are Black Latinos). Do the right thing and stand firmly (al cien) with the Black community in actively fighting for equal justice.

An update on Week 1 of Zoom University

10 Apr

It’s Friday morning and this week has felt like it has lasted FOREVA! Yesterday I had a moment of panic not being able to remember if it was Wed or Thurs until I remembered that I had just done Wed lectures. You know your life has changed fundamentally when you mark the days with which zoom lectures you’ve attended. 😅

Earlier this week I wrote a guide  To (now Online) College Students – You need a plan to succeed taken from my experience juggling being a mom to three girls, being a partner, cleaning, cooking, and being a full time student at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science.

Now that I’ve had my first 5 days of #zoomuniversity let’s dive in and talk about the good, the not so good, and the I wish this quarter was over.

The Good

I’ve kept up with my notes checklist and have tried to be kind to myself. I haven’t had a day where I didn’t work hard and yet I still feel behind. The things is some days I am super productive but half of that productivity goes to caring for my household and mom duties so I feel like I didn’t get enough done school wise. But you know what, I’m effin killing it.

Checklist for Wednesday: Look at that productivity!

Checklist for Wednesday: Look at that productivity!

Overall keeping a Google calendar and a checklist is going well. I just found out that Google Calendar has a sidebar with a task list if that’s more your jam but the task goes away once you check it off and well, I want persistent proof if what I did! 🙂

Celebrate Your Successes!

The Day 90 comment you see is my 90 days of not drinking. I didn’t really take a moment to celebrate that and I should – it’s a big accomplishment. I was using alcohol to numb pain from past trauma and at the back of my head I always feared that I would become an alcoholic like both of my parents. So the decision to go dry and to invest that time and energy into therapy and healing has been my biggest 2020 win.

Advocate For Yourself

Shout out to Engineering Professors Who Have Empathy + High Emotional Intelligence

At this point I have emailed all of my professors my education accommodation letter (here known as your OAE letter) and a note on my circumstances. Below is an email I sent:

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 9.18.34 AM

Email to professors re: my circumstances and asking for extensions over weekday deadlines

I was incredibly appreciative that they quickly responded. I won’t post their response to respect their privacy but they followed the below:

This is How You Should Respond to Your Student During This Time of Uncertainty

  • Acknowledge that their situation is challenging
  • Ask clarifying questions about how you can best help them
  • Reassure them that you are more than happy to be flexible and do what you can to ensure that they succeed
  • Follow through

That’s it. It’s not that hard.

Sadly, not all professors have responded in that manner and it pains me that I have to keep following up. My next step – since I won’t give up on advocating for myself – is to reach out to my advisor and office of accessible education coordinator to explicitly ask for extensions for assignments that are assigned and due on weekdays without a weekend in between. Some people won’t help you unless you make them. It shouldn’t have to be that way but sadly that’s the reality for a lot of people in power.

If there was ever a moment to follow the “Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil” mentality – this is it! We’re in a pandemic, I’m about to follow Ms Londynn B’s example and bring it like:

*youtube video of Londynn B singing One Day – I don’t want no Problems*

The Not So Good

How do I balance being a family caretaker while going to school full time?

unnamed

Valentina, my 3yo, doing youtube preschool – That FACE says it all

A real challenge has been figuring out a balance of caring for my 3yo while attending live Zoom lectures (I have about 7 HOURS of lectures on M/W/F), taking notes, keeping up with dense readings, cooking, showering and looking human, and being there for my teenage daughters. I’m not going to lie – it’s been rough.

My 3yo doesn’t understand why we can’t play and cuddle all day if I am sitting right there in front of the computer. I’ve tried to make a 2 hour rule where every two hours I spend up to an hour with her doing ballet, phonics, going on walks, and just being there for her. But as you can expect, with all of the lectures, sections, readings, and HW’s I feel like I’m running a marathon every single day.

What has kept me going is that SO FAR I am still above water and that I’m down one week – 8 to go. Check in with me next week after all my psets and quizzes are due >_<

I’ve reminded myself that I am an incredible parent and that I am carrying a much heavier load than most and that all I can do is try my best. Love yourself and your efforts. This isn’t a time where you have to thrive – getting by as well as you can is an incredible feat PERIOD.

My Weekends are Meaningless 

In order to “succeed” this quarter, and by succeed I mean pass all my classes and absorb as much as I can, I have to work every day. No weekends. That’s a bitter pill to swallow but unfortunately this is a time when I have to make sacrifices. I’m working from 8 AM – midnight with “breaks” in between to do all my mom duties. If I don’t do a bulk of work on weekends there is no way that I can get all of my schoolwork done.

Working Out – Ms Mariah Carrey Says It Best

*gif with Mariah Carey shaking her head. Text: I don’t hear you, I don’t see you, You don’t exist to me”

I have nothing else to say on that.

Week 1 And I Wish This Quarter Was Over

I’m not going to lie, I wish we were done with school for the year. It’s rough not being around friends, not sitting next to them in lecture and exchanging looks, tips, and smirks as needed. And that’s coming from an ambivert closer to introvert side.

Follow Up With Friends – A Text From You Might Be Just What They Need

As humans, we have a tendency to center ourselves and feel like we are the only ones going through it. We isolate ourselves and wallow in our despair.

But this is a GLOBAL Pandemic. We’re not alone. Reach out to your loved ones – those that bring you joy.

I’ve been texting close friends to both check in on them and to maintain the relationships that I cherish. People are setting up all kinds of slacks and zoom meetups but I’ll be honest – I don’t have the energy to make new friends. Leaning on and being there for existing strong friendships is what serves as a salve when I need a meaningful connection to those outside of my home. Do what helps you!

Focus on What You Can Control

I want to end with reminding you (and me!) that there is only so much under our control. Don’t stress the small stuff – assess what you have to do, what you can do, and move forth.

My guiding thoughts these days:

  1. Prioritize schoolwork that is due soon – we want to graduate y’all!
  2. It is okay to give 80% to one class, 75% to another, and 100% energy to the courses that you want to absorb and that will help you professionally. These percentages will change week to week – do what you gotta do!
  3. When I feel like I can’t do this – reach out to those that will uplift me
  4. Lead with positive energy and mentality. Getting stuck in the – how am I going to do all of this mentality helps no one. Take it a bit at a time, chip away. One step at a time.
  5. Some days I will not be able to do any of the above. I will be kind to myself on those days, try to get some tiny task done and call that day a win and know that I will feel better tomorrow.
  6. We are all struggling.
  7. This will pass

Find your guiding thoughts, mantras, whatever keeps you going. And remember:

The mere act of living through a pandemic while going to school, caring for others, working, etc. IS A MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT and we should all get an A on all of our coursework just by completing the course!

As always with much love and strength,

Susana

To (now Online) College Students – You need a plan to succeed

5 Apr

In the midst of the pandemic, first responders are struggling to keep our fellow Americans healthy; service workers have lost wages and tips; many of us are or will face the loss of a loved one; and many of us are trying to figure out how to keep the fridge stocked and a roof over our heads. Those are all incredibly difficult and life altering problems.

And so is the real issue of dealing with an education system that has moved online. For many students in the US, this will be the first experience with online learning or #zoomuniversity. As a former community college student (and many times failed online school student – side eyeing you Kaplan), I’ve juggled raising a family as a single mom, working 50+ hours at a high stress job, and taking a combination of in-person and online coursework. So I like to think I know a thing or two about the matter.

Making a plan that works for you – and how to interact with that plan to set yourself up for success

There’s several apps and tech out there but I like to keep it fairly simple. I make use of Google Calendar, iOS notes app, and sticky notes. My tips below:

  • Google calendar
  • Keeping up with the Lecture Schedule + Study Groups
  • HW, Quiz, Exam release dates + deadlines
  • The art of note-taking and asking questions
  • iOS notes app
    • Daily checklists
    • Check in with yourself
    • Journal
  • sticky notes on my display screen

Google Calendar: What to Add and Why

This is a tricky balancing act. Add too many items to your calendar and you will have an anxiety attack just looking at all the deadlines. Don’t add enough and you risk missing an important deadline or lookahead for exam studying.

Lecture Schedule

Personally I add lecture times or the time when the pre-recorded lecture will be up. Either way for the time window I include the length of the lecture plus an additional 15-30 minutes (depending on class content) for pausing and rewinding. This allows me to see the pockets of time that I have to dedicate for each class and I can “reschedule” it to another day or time when I know I can focus on content digestion.

Keeping up with lecture: The merry-go-round that never stops

Ay. We’ve all been there: class is recorded, we have overlapping classes, and we PROMISE ourselves that will catch up on the weekend – always on that mythically eternal long weekend that somehow always flashes before our eyes in a second with no progress on lecture. Before you know it, it’s two days before an exam and you’re are binging on lecture videos trying to LEARN new content instead of reviewing something that was taught weeks ago. Don’t fall victim to this vicious cycle – it never ends well.

Lecture Accountability: Form Study groups

What has worked best for me is setting up study groups pronto! More than one – including with people you don’t know. I use groupMe, group texts, Slack to communicate with different study groups. I then schedule days when we will go over HW problems (which rely on lecture) so that I HAVE to be ready. There’s nothing like the pressure to stay up to date because you want to help your friend out with their questions – it should always be a give and take dynamic.

The Art of Note-taking: How to Absorb content while viewing a video + Post on Piazza with my name (Not Anonymously)

I download the lecture slides (if available – all online classes should be required to have slides) onto my iPad. Before I saved for my iPad, I used to print out the slides (I am so, so, so sorry mother earth) and write notes on the pages.

With my iPad I can now follow along with the video and pause the video when I have question or am unclear on what was said. I note the time of the video and write what my question is. I continue with the lecture if this doesn’t stumble me up for the remaining content and see if my question is answered. If not then I post on piazza or whatever student Q&A platform the class uses and note what I am referring to (both content summary and timestamp of video) and state how I understand it (so prof has an opportunity to explain it further or differently if I misunderstood) and ask my question.

I publish questions with my name – not anonymously. Why? Because fellow students are more likely to answer a question if there is a name attached – that’s just human nature, and because someone I know or knows of me will be even more inclined to give an in-depth question. I had a CS class in which I made it my mission to give in-depth answers to all questions but especially to those posed by Latinx / Black students. Sue me.

Find the ways in which note-taking works best for you but know now that an online class will require more effort to master the content.

HW, Quiz, and Exam Dates

I add when a HW/Quiz/Exam is out and when it is due. That way I can see if I have multiple classes with the same deadline. I then reach out to my counselor, Office of Accessible Education coordinator, and professors – in that order so that I can see what accommodations are available to me, ask for those accommodations and get appropriate documentation if needed, and then email the professor and lead TA with a blurb on my specific situation, a specific ask, and attach the documentation.

If you’re floundering from day 0 because you have a lot on your plate (caring for children, parents, siblings, working, etc.) please follow the above. There is no reason that we should suffer alone and quietly. Squeaky wheel gets the oil is something you need to embrace as needed.

iOS notes app: checklists are my jam, journaling, inspiration

I use my notes app for pretty much everything. During a quarter I aim to post every day with a list of TODO items using the checklist feature.

Below is an example of recent posts. As you can see I forgot the tomatoes and I need to charge my phone 🙂

 

An example of my TODO list
I have been eating a lot of cheeze-its. We’re in a pandemic – don’t judge me!

What the Checklist is for – and what it Shouldn’t do

More importantly, you will notice that I don’t get through everything on my list in one day. Completion of tasks within the day is NOT the point. The point is to keep an inventory of TODOs, prioritize accordingly, and carryover anything that wasn’t done to the next day. No judgement. This is meant to help you – not make you feel worse.

You will also note that I include the mundane (grocery shopping), along with school work. I have one day where everything I did centered on cleaning and errands. Celebrate everything you accomplish because it is exactly that, an accomplishment. There will be days when you are too tired *raises hand*, too depressed *raises hand*, too busy with caring for loved ones *raises hand*, too whatever to do the schoolwork that has to get done. Be prepared for that. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human – especially since at minimum you are dealing with stress induced by the pandemic and all the changes and uncertainty that it brings.

Journaling – I was terrible at it until…

You guessed it, I used my notes app. I’ve tried to buy pretty stationary, notebooks, blogs *yes this blog – stop judging me!* to establish a daily-ish journaling practice and it just never took. A few months ago I started some intense trauma therapy and to stay anchored and document my progress and state of mind I started jotting down notes under each day. Things like, how I felt when I woke up (e.g. feeling groggy, good / bad sleep, # hrs of sleep), how I felt that day (e.g. a good day, in a funk, a really bad can’t get out of bed day). I included workouts I did – never what I didn’t do. What I cooked that day, a memory I made that day w/ friends or fam, etc.

These check-ins lead to the practice of self-awareness and introspection – one of the most powerful skills you can hope to develop. It also allows you to look back and question false statements such as “I was so lazy this week.” Were you lazy? Or were you just dealing with extra shit that week? This has helped me identify what triggers my anxiety and depression – also a very powerful and life-altering skill.

There are no rules – jot down what you want!

Inspiration

If you ever need an idea for a startup, social justice issue you should care about, or a poem – I got you. I write these down too. But I keep these in separate notes. I love being able to reference these to undo “writers block”, get a brainstorm for CS group research projects going, etc.

Sticky Notes! Printouts! —> Physical Inspiration Board

Before being a full time student at Stanford, I was the Global Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions & IP Group, Data Privacy Group, and the Life Sciences Industry Group at a top three law firm. Yeah it’s a mouthful and it was a lot. To keep me from losing my mind from all the deadlines, being the only Latina in the entire department, working in all white spaces in a corporate setting, reporting to some very childish and a-holy personalities (though also some incredibly supportive and amazing partners who I owe a lot to and learned a lot from), and to keep pushing myself to achieve more I kept an inspiration board. Well that’s a stretch.

What I did was print out articles of bad ass mujeres achieving despite their circumstances and graphs and visuals on tech trends; maintained a white board with my upcoming high level strategic goals, handwritten messages from colleagues, silly drawings, and sticky notes all over my screen with sayings like – “Remember Who You Are”, “You’ve Been Through So Much Worse”, “Look at You Miss Chingona – Get it!” and the such. I loved that board. It kept me rooted in who I was, where I came from, and most importantly where I knew I was going. It reminded me that even though I ‘just had a HS diploma’ that I was keeping up and outrunning colleagues who had advanced degrees from Ivy Leagues.

These days, I remind myself how far I’ve come since taking my first introductory CS class. How far I’ve come since the shitty childhood I had in Boyle Heights / East Los, the trauma, the abusive relationships, being a single mom at 23 to two toddlers in LA without help from anyone, all the shit I had to crawl through to get to where I am. I told you I was a chingona. 😉

Osea – Be your own cheerleader

So use these sticky notes to be your own cheerleader. Because no one, absolutely no one should be a bigger cheerleader for you than you are for yourself. Because there will most likely be moments (and at times repeated long periods) when you fail, when you feel that you have fallen into a hole so deep and dark that no one sees you anymore and from which you don’t see a way out. In those moments, that’s when you can tap into that inner cheerleader and urge yourself to take it a day at a time, un poquito a la vez, because this is what your new measure of success may be – Am I a little further (no matter how much) than I was yesterday? Sometimes you will feel like you walked back, other days like you didn’t move at all, but there will be days that you advance. Un Dia a La Vez. 

TLDR / In Conclusion

Be prepared. Make a plan. Continuously check in and update that plan. Find what works for you and adapt accordingly. Check in with yourself – not just academically. Be kind to yourself. Know that You will get there and You will be cheerleading yourself on the whole way.

Like I love to say, we have to Take Life By the Horns and Make it Your B!tch! 🙂

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