Transferring to Stanford Q&A – A student’s perspective

12 Jan

Hi! If you’re here because of this tweet, welcome!

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Feel free to read more about me in the About page but a brief intro:

I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in CS in the AI track. I’m also a transfer student (transferred from a Cañada Community College). I’m Latinx, first-gen, and nontraditional (over 25) and a mom to three girls.

To start off PLEASE APPLY. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single one of us thought we wouldn’t get in because our year the acceptance rate was <2%. Pero aqui estoy!

To share information as much as possible I will list Q&A from DM’s resulting from the tweet above. While I wish everyone well, I am concentrating my efforts in increasing the number of Latinx, Black, Native American, first-gen / low income community college transfers. I respectfully ask that you not DM me on the process for grad school or frosh app (no idea). Follow me @susanabenavidez and DM me your questions.

Let’s begin! I will share the questions I’ve received and answers I provide. Please note that my answers do not in any way represent Stanford nor are legal advice nor are to be taken as official instructions of any kind. Names are removed and questions are edited for clarity.

Q. How do I event start the application process?

A. Here’s a checklist from Stanford detailing exactly what you need to submit for your application.

Q. Can I afford it?

A. I can’t answer this question for you but I can share that Stanford has been incredibly generous with me and many of the transfer students that I know. I got into UC Berkeley – you can read about that here and the financial package I got meant I had to pay several thousands of dollars even though I qualified for financial aid with a low family contribution. When I got into Stanford – you can read about that moment here I didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the transfer director contacted me to see what was going on. I told her I was waiting on financial aid because I couldn’t commit without knowing what I would owe. She checked and I got my FA letter almost immediately.

I almost screamed when I saw the generous $$$ scholarship they awarded me. It was like they made it so I couldn’t say no. My youngest was 4 months old when I started and they even provided me with a daycare stipend. It obviously doesn’t cover all of my expenses as I have a big family but it covers enough to give me peace of mind.

See here for official information from Stanford about cost / aid estimates.

Q. Do they accept transfer students out of California?

A. Yes! My transfer class had students from all over the US and an international student from Singapore.

Q. Hi Susana – I’m considering CS at Stanford!. I’m already a self-taught developer but I want to go back to school. My biggest obstacle is that I’m undocumented and low income. I’m not sure where I can find resource for my specific case. Any tips, would be much appreciated. 🙂

A. I emailed financial aid and will report back what they say (didn’t give any identifying information)

“Hi Susana, Stanford treats undocumented students as US domestic students in the undergraduate admission process, assessing their applications under the same need-blind admission policy it uses for citizens of the United States. Stanford will use institutional funds to meet the full demonstrated financial need of undocumented students who are admitted. Please share our Undocumented Student webpage with your friend and let him know that he is welcome to call our office if he has any concerns.

Our number is 650-723-3058.

Financial Aid Officer Montag Hall, 355 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305-6106 | T 650.723.3058”

Here is the link to the Undocumented Student webpage: financialaid.stanford.edu/undergrad/how/

Q. I received several questions that asked for general advice. I mean many of us are first-gen students and didn’t receive the guidance on how to apply to schools or that Stanford even takes transfers.

“I’m a second year (first born and gen) student at —- college and I wasn’t planning on transferring anywhere until 2021 as a —— student. I honestly never considered Stanford until I came across your tweet! I need all the orientation I could get so I was wondering if you had some pointers that I could work on for during this next year! Thank you sm.”

A. What I did:

JOURNAL Your Accomplishments:

I kept notes of everything I was involved in and did outside of academic school work:
  • Approach professors to take their honors course – some offer a contract you sign and you just have to do extra work and a research paper – apply to symposiums at Berkeley and Stanford to present your research – your counselor should have this info
  • I was a single mom so I added everything I do as a parent on top of working full time and going to school
  • I volunteered at startup orgs showing that my interest in entrepreneurship was tangible
  • I started a social media group for parents that grew into a building a new school effort, served as advertising for the Chamber of Commerce to attract families, and resulted in networking that got me my first business development job
  • I worked up the ladder in business development and highlighted my leadership position at a prestigious firm
  • I had community organizing experience, freelance writing, and showed how much I grew and survived while thriving. It’s hard to remember everything if you don’t take notes in a journal.

Your accomplishments don’t have to look like mine. The transfer class for my year was incredibly diverse and ran the gamut of life experiences. That’s the point. Stanford wants to attract a diverse community of students.

Q. How did you structure your personal statement?

A. My personal statement told a story that went something like this:

  • who I was + where I started
  • the trauma / struggles that defined my early ‘failure’
  • how I took that failure and let it motivate my next moves
  • my commitment to higher education + equality of education (my focus is edtech / CS + Social Good)
  • highlighted the turn from where I was to what I did to accomplish -> highlighted the biggest and most impressive accomplishments
  • how I would leverage my time at Stanford to reach my goals (for me, a startup in edtech / social good space)

That’s sort of the short story of how I approached my personal statement. I would share it except that my essay was deeply personable, emotionally raw, and describes trauma / abuse that I don’t want to share here quite yet.

But the higher level approach I took was – what do I have that others don’t? Why am I impressive? I took the little that life gave me as a start and turned it into mother effin magic.

Let me illustrate my point via a couple of pictures:

candAvB

ladders

Highlight the Upward Trend of your Life that demonstrates sustained growth.

How do you respond to ‘failure’? I’ve had many challenges in my life. ‘Failure’ is hard, really hard. Most people give up, settle, crumble under failure. Others take that failure, learn from it, pivot and take off to their potential. Be the latter. 

failure

In other words, I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ candidate given the early ‘failures’ in my life. But I definitely demonstrated resilience and the ability to not run away from my problems or the shame that comes with them. I owned what happened to me as well as the decisions I made. I spoke about the motivations in my life for a better life and Not Giving Up (for me my little girls). And I showed what a badass I am by letting them see the growth from where I started and what I accomplished with the little I had.

Q. Did you do any research as a community college student?

Q. What is campus life like?

A. I feel like you have to ask someone else on what it’s like as a 20 yo but from my very unique experience:

The first year was tough. It can feel incredibly isolating when you are a nontraditional student and don’t feel like you belong. I joined and took on leadership positions at Women in CS and Society of Latinx Engineers. This helped somewhat. I also took several creative writing courses and that was a great way to meet friends as the classes are tiny (~8 students v. the hundreds in my CS classes).

Eventually I worked through the belief and voice that told me I didn’t belong and worked on carving out spaces for me on campus.

Last year and this year have been incredible socially. I feel like I have friends wherever I go and I very much feel like Stanford is home.

I have done so much while on campus, the opportunities are incredible:

  • Did the Levinthal Tutorial, a 1:1 class with a Stegner Fellow and read one of my short stories to a large audience. I’ve never shared outside of small workshopping.
  • Was a Seeds of Change cohort leader where I went through Stanford’s Women’s Executive Leadership program and taught similar concepts to high school girls interested in STEM
  • Member of CS + Social Good where I took the incredible CS51/52 two quarter course where we ideated, prototyped, and then built a product as a solution posed by an edTech partner
  • Summer CS + Social Good Fellow where I interned at a tiny but powerful edTech startup. I grew so much as an engineer – I had to – I was the 2nd engineer on staff!
  • WiCS and SOLE: Met so many companies that I recruited to come speak to our members, including some very cool CEOs that I really admire
  • Moderated an event with Ellen Pao A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include
  • Took the novel writing class and have a draft (very rough) of my first novel!
  • Presented my research at the Latinx in AI workshop at NeurIPS last month in Vancouver
  • Forged incredible relationships with CS professors that I deeply admire
  • Met my co-founder!
  • Interned at Y Combinator and Thunkable, a YC Company
  • El Centro for Friday Cafecito (Mexican sweet bread + hot chocolate / sometimes atole or champurrado YUM!)

I know I’m forgetting a lot. But you get the point, if you leverage the resources there is so much to do!

 

Write/Speak/Code a Latinx In Tech Awakening

13 Oct

I’ve been floundering for the last x years.

When I was growing up I kinda knew I was smart. But no one ever said this explicitly. I stole bits and pieces of this information from quick glances at transcripts that said Highly Gifted, at the comments that some teachers made about my “potential”. But no one explicitly said, “Susana, we will help you reach your potential.” Or we will explain what we mean by “potential”.

Instead I heard all of the disappointments that my drop in grades in HS brought, or the silent treatment I got from my counselor following my suicide attempt my junior year. I was left to look for the scraps and pieces of hope that I would be able to amount to something academically – a feeling too similar that I received at home where I hoped to amount to anything more than what I felt I had been born to be for the molesters in my life.

It has been a long and painful road to get to where I am.

Really painful.

I share this because I am trying to give you a glimpse as to why I have had such a hard time building a sense of belonging. And sadly, when you don’t feel like you belong, it’s like having one foot out the door ready to take your leave because you never truly believed that you deserved a place in the room to begin with.

I have struggled so much to belong at Stanford and by extension, in tech (because the two are as intertwined as are fertile soil and water). I thought that I wasn’t smart enough. That I just wasn’t the right profile. That I was too late. That I wasn’t good enough. That it was me, and my skin color and my culture and my upbringing that didn’t afford me the privilege of blending. Of belonging.

But it wasn’t until this summer that I truly felt like I couldn’t fold myself onto the definition of a Stanford CS student that I felt myself bursting wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

I had a stressful summer. But at the end I had an awakening. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to be able to belong, it was that I didn’t belong into the current mold. Because there was no mold for someone like me.

And I had to get comfortable with that paradigm shift.

Enter Write/Speak/Code.

I attended a Techqueria event at Slack. What is Techqueria? I had the same question and funny enough I didn’t find out by a Latinx member but by a fellow intern who happened to know someone on the board who went to school with her brother. The event had a panel of Latinx in tech, one of which was the amazing Josh Torres, the Latinx Tech Program Manager at the Kapor Center, and more importantly to me, the son to a single mom who went on to carve out a very successful path for herself *Josh I still want to be friends with your bad ass mom*. I reached out to Josh because his mother’s story touched me deeply, and to ask to be connected to Latinx opportunities afforded by the Kapor Center. They funded my registration to Write/Speak/Code and empowered me to attend.

I had never attended a technical conference. I had never attended an affinity conference that truly made me feel like I belonged.

Write/Speak/Code does not mess around. It is a 3 day intensive workshop that offers a curriculum for you to become a better technical writer, presenter, and contributor to open source. It also offers community and fosters a sense of belonging.

Throughout the weekend I connected with other women who had powerful stories, who uplifted me, who inspired me to remember my own story and remind myself why I was here.

Through the code of conduct that I felt was concrete and impactful, tutorials by Angie Jones, lunch with Tiffany Price *also a badass at the Kapor Center* <<clearly they know how to hire top talent>>, meeting amazing friends and sources of inspiration like Genesis and Shailvi, I truly felt like I belonged. Not only did I belong but I had so much to bring to the tech space that they didn’t even know they craved.

Following that magical weekend I was inspired to speak up. To objectively inspect what I had to offer and what my value is as a Latinx in tech, as a Latinx transfer student at Stanford, as a Latinx in AI, as the bad ass indigena mujer that I am, as the all of me unheard perspective had to offer. I have applied to various conferences and opportunities because Write/Speak/Code reminded me that the worse that can happen is that I hear no. Or nothing back at all. And that is okay.

Since then because I have put myself out there I had the honor to moderate an incredible conversation with the amazing Ellen K. Pao, I have had my Natural Language Processing paper in hate speech detection accepted at Latinx In AI workshop co-located at Neurips, and I have had my inspiration and hope for what I can do refueled by womxn that lift me up.

I can’t imagine a better return of investment (ROI) for a conference than that. So my recommendation is to attend Write/Speak/Code every chance you get because you may enter the conference wondering how these amazing women got booked for their first presentation and you may leave very well on the path of being one of them.

As always

Much love,

Susana

 

A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include

9 Oct

A few weeks ago I attended Write/Speak/Code, a non-profit dedicated to promote the visibility and leadership of technologists with marginalized genders through peer-led professional development that hosts an annual conference and meetup events designed to help you fully own your expertise through writing, speaking, and open source.

That’s a mouthful but they live by every word and more. I can’t stop saying how life-altering attending that conference was for me. Being in a space full of womxn in tech, including brown and black women, was what my heart and soul needed. I needed so badly to feel like I belonged in tech, that it wasn’t me that was the problem with the lack of diversity at work, but that my experienced were reflected in many others.

I promise I will write up a post on what I learned and experienced at that conference, I tweeted up a storm when I attended. 

This conference and the incredible speakers inspired me to start responding to Calls for Proposals to present at technical conferences, to apply to technical workshops, and to apply to get my research published.

But I digress, I told you I would tell you about moderating Ellen K. Pao: Fighting for Inclusion In Silicon Valley.

So when I got an email from Michelle N. (whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting) back in July, saying Julie suggested that we connect given our common involvement in CS + Social Good on campus, I was excited to hear more when she mentioned the possibility of bringing Ellen to speak on campus.

For context, Julie and I took a two-quarter CS + SG course: CS 51 Designing Social Impact Projects and CS 52 Implementing your Social Impact Project via a chosen technical framework. I highly recommend committing to these courses if you’re a student at Stanford. It doesn’t count towards any requirement and the 2 unit load should really be 5 but it is completely worth the time and effort. You can read more about the course here. Julie and I were both summer fellows and worked as ambassadors for Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service where we collaborated on getting the word out to our respective communities, many at the intersection of race, gender, and tech.

Julie recommended me to Michelle and attested to my commitment to combining tech with social good and honestly I was deeply moved that Julie noticed and believed in me enough to think of me.

This is the power of your network, of putting yourself out there, and of being vulnerable enough to voice your opinions and perspective in rooms that aren’t always reflective of your experience. 

Michelle pulled off the major feat of connecting with Ellen, inviting her to speak on campus, organizing student groups Women in CS (WiCS), Stanford Women in Design (SWID), and Stanford’s entrepreneurship community ASES to come together to plan the logistics, culminating in a beautiful event last night.

I am still riding high from the honor and privilege of serving as the moderator of this incredibly inspiring conversation with Ellen. Bellow is a tweet that makes me giggle every time I read it.

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Following the event, a pic with attendees and our hero Ellen K. Pao

Honestly, I have so many emotions following the event that I am having a hard time expressing them. I am speechless, and that is rare.

I will say that I will continue to work towards making tech more inclusive and that the resilience, strength, and commitment to what is true and good that Ellen possesses is what we should all aspire to.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, read Ellen’s book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change in which she tells her full story for the first time, and Project Include, whose mission is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech. Project Include is a non-profit that uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry.

But Why Don’t You Listen For Yourself?

Ellen says it best, to watch some of last night’s conversations:

I hope you are inspired for a more inclusive workplace.

I hope you work hard and concretely to move toward a more inclusive workplace.

And I hope that you know that you are not alone in these beliefs and that we will make an inclusive workplace a reality together.

Much love,

Susana

First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #GHC19 A Non-Brief Interjection #LatinxInAI

6 Oct

Welcome back! Continuing with my First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper series. Make sure you read Part 1 of the series.

Celebrating #LatinxInAI News:

You know how when things go wrong we blame ourselves and when things go right we tend to minimize it and say things like, “no problem!”, “it was nothing!”, etc.?

This type of minimizing language tends to sneak up and in the spirit of being self-aware and unlearning this behavior I wanted to share my exciting news I received on Tuesday night.

How did this all come about?

For some context, I attended the Write/Speak/Code annual conference this summer as a scholarship recipient from the Kapor Center. This conference was life altering for me and I will write up a blog post(s) about my experience! I tweeted up a storm under #WSC2019Conf feel free to follow me at @susanabenavidez. This all happened as a consequence of my #networking at a Techqueria event hosted by Slack.

Reframing your narrative slide from write session by Angie Jones listing words that undermine our accomplishment inlcuding:

Among my favorite sessions were Angie Jones’ write day session. Follow her, she’s amazing: https://twitter.com/techgirl1908

After the Write/Speak/Code Write Day Session with Angie Jones 🔥 I was inspired to start applying to conferences and other activities around branding and representing as a Latina in tech 👩🏻‍💻.

This past Spring I took CS 224U taught by incredible Professor of Linguistics and, by courtesy, of Computer Science, and Director of CSLI and Stanford NLP Group Christopher Potts and equally impressive Director of Proactive Intelligence at Apple and Consulting Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford Bill MacCartney.

With mentorship from incredibly supportive Cindy Wang I co-authored (with my awesome fellow transfer and also CS major Andy Lapastora) a research paper “Improving Hate Speech Classification on Twitter” detailing existing natural language processing and understanding and machine learning work in this space as well as explaining the motivation of our hand built features, transfer learning, and AI models. We applied to present our paper and our paper got accepted by:

LatinX in AI Research at NeurIPS 2019
The Official LXAI Research Workshop is co-located with NeurIPS in Vancouver CANADA

Major shout out to Latinx In AI Chair and Founder of AccelAI Laura Montoya and Visiting Researcher en Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) Pablo Fonseca who announced the opportunity on Techqueria’s slack and guided me in the submission process. This is what being an advocate and mentor is all about! #LatinxInAI 
During the conference I emailed Cindy Wang, now at Sentropy.io and professor Chris Potts to thank them for their guidance, opportunity, and support. I also emailed Professor Potts for a faculty letter so I can apply to Stanford’s grant program for undergrads to attend conferences in which they present their research. His letter made me cry. Talk about being an advocate and ally to inclusion for Latinx In AI. I have never felt so believed in and sure of the decisions, ethics, and values I hold when working in the exciting field of Artificial Intelligence. I will link the paper after the conference!

I’m going to be a published researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing / Understanding…well let’s let the Reyna explain my feelings 🎉💃🏻

source

Takeaways

I hope you didn’t mind my veering off the #GraceHopper flow but I wanted to share my win because Si No Yo, ¿quién? Roughly: ‘If we don’t Pump Ourselves Up, then Who?’

Never lean away from celebrating your accomplishments and if you struggle with tooting your own horn, ask yourself, how would I respond if my friend shared this news about themselves? You would totally pump them up right? Then there you go, your friend here is you.

By the Way This is Totally Related to Grace Hopper #Networking

A MAJOR component and benefit of attending conferences is the incredible networking opportunities. Don’t shy away from them.

We all feel nervous 😩 about networking but I will share how I approach networking. Networking is one of the reasons I was able to pivot from my accounting clerk job (I hit a ceiling due to not having a degree) to the much more profitable and portable field of business development. Shout out to Anne Marie for connecting me not once, but twice to opportunities that led to promotions and major life moves! 💕 If I had not made that move, I would not have been able to support myself and my two kiddos when I was a single mom in LA and would not have met my partner.

In the next post as I talk about Day 3, technically the first full day of Grace Hopper, I’ll share how this introvert weaved in #networking and being a #socialConnector into the conference many sessions, sponsor events, and career fair. I highly recommend reading Minda Harts The Memo. You’re welcome 😉 and thank you for reading!

First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #Newbie #GHC19 Part 1 of Series

4 Oct

After applying to attend Grace Hopper three years in a row, Stanford sponsored me along with other fellow Computer Science undergrads + masters (majority) to attend GHC19!

Today is the LAST DAY 😭 and while I rest my poor feet 👣 before the closing celebration 💃🏻I thought I’d share my experience so far (while the impressions are still fresh on my mind).

DAY 1: MONDAY 9/30 TRAVEL DAY ✈️

What I did: The first day was a travel day for me. Not knowing when to head to the conference I booked a Monday morning flight connecting in Houston with 1 1/2 hour layover. I arrived in Orlando at 6 PM and to my hotel before 7 PM. Stanford made and paid our hotel reservations (2 Stanford students to a room). I wish they paid for our flights up front as I had trouble coming up with the airfare so by the time I booked my flight in late August, the nonstop flights were $1200+ so I booked a nonstop flight ~$750 which was the cheapest I could find. We will be reimbursed after the conference for up to $700.

On my early flight SFO -> Houston -> Orlando

GHC flight to

What I wish I did: I wish Stanford had provided me with the funds to book my flight as soon as I was accepted. I would have taken a nonstop flight on Tuesday as I really just lost a day to traveling and getting behind school lectures + coursework.

I wish Stanford had made a reservation to dinner / meetup before the conference so we could have a chance to meet friendly and familiar faces.

Day 2:  TUESDAY 10/1 Registration + Career Fair Crawl + Techqueria Meetup!

What I did: I made the very rookie mistake of arriving at 4 PM to register before the career fair (5 – 6 PM). I ended up waiting 3 hours to get my badge. I did some homework while I was on the snaking line and chatted with my new friend and roommate.

The career fair crawl came and went while we waited and waited and waited…

registration line

Silver lining of the very long wait: I got to know my roommate really well as we talked about classes, aspirations, our backgrounds, our shared first generation experience, and so much more.

At 6:50 PM as I handed my student ID to one of the registration workers I got a notification from Grace Hopper apologizing for the inconvenience but the SYSTEM WAS DOWN and for attendees to return the next day at 5 AM to pick up their badges.

As I held my breath for my badge to print I thought how the heck am I supposed to find the silver lining in this? My badge printed and I let out a huge sigh of relief.

I booked a Lyft and ran to the ride share pick up to head to the Techqueria meetup.

Techqueria is a nonprofit that serves
the largest community of Latinx in Tech 🌮
👉🏼https://techqueria.org/ to signup

slack meetup info

I was so appreciative that members of Techqueria formed a Grace Hopper channel and volunteered to make the above beautiful invite, plan the reservation and get us all together. Shout out to Yanessa and Mitzi for making this happen!

I have never felt so at home than I did with these amazing Latinas. My ears were so happy to hear the English -> Spanish -> Spanglish vocal dancing.

Whether we were from Boyle Heights, Seattle, Chicago, New York, the Bay Area, or donde sea (wherever) –  we came from shared experience and seeing my experiences reflected in these warm and beautiful faces filled my heart and soul with hope. Can you imagine if we got to work in the same company? Las maravillas we would build!

The connections I met that night were meaningful and deeply personal and I will always treasure the conversations we had.

We had 40+ Latinxs attend the meetup at local business Amor Em Pedacos, a Brazilian empanadas restaurant

techqueria meetup

After the restaurant closed at 10 PM four of us went looking for a place to keep chatting. I am so glad I put myself out there because the payoff was that I got to be in a space where I could voice my experiences to and in tech without judgement, I felt understood and I made friends that I want to keep collaborating with.

What I wish I did:

You could say that I missed out on the career crawl but honestly I think if it hadn’t been for the long line, I may have experienced the career fair from a place of trepidation and isolation. I wouldn’t have got to know my roommate and I don’t know that I would have had the mental energy to attend the meetup. I was reenergized every time I bumped into one of these amazing ladies during the conference and I felt like I was here with my family, not alone in a crowd of 25,0000.  Finding this beautiful community reminded me again that I belong in tech and that there is a large and vibrant community of Latinx in Tech.

This Latina’s non-traditional path to tech: Part 0

24 Sep

I’m Susana, mom to 3 amazing daughters, Latina in tech with much to say.

I left a lucrative job in legal business development to pursue my undergrad computer science degree full time at Stanford.

Why you ask? Some may say I am a masochist but I say I am a life long learner that wanted to lead by example for my daughters and show them that fulfilling your long term goals is worth the hard work and risk.

The long story goes way back to my HS days and immediately after (which will require a separate post). The shortish overview is that I took a leave of absence from Loyola Marymount after one semester (spoiler: I never went back) to work full time and help my family, I got married soon after (them Catholic conservative parents) and had my girls at 20 and 21.

I quickly found myself living in a leaky basement illegal unit in East LA with a man that was abusive and no way to support myself and my girls.

I’ve worked since I was 14 but working and making enough to pay for childcare in addition to basic necessities was almost impossible. I applied for a city job as a clerk typist at the recommendation from a HS Economics teacher. Eventually I was able to find a way out of that dangerous situation (so many separate future posts).

Let’s fast forward to me living in downtown LA where as a side hustle I started writing human interest pieces for a local publication (for free because I strategically used it to build my brand and portfolio). Through the parents social media group I founded (creating a diverse and powerful network and augmenting my side hustle), I met an incredible supportive friend AM who believed in me and introduced me to her network. She’s done this twice for me. Both times it has been pivotal to my being here.

In 2015 I was a business development specialist at one of the top global firms where I was the Technology Transactions and Life Sciences Business Development Lead. It’s a mouthful. It’s also still one of my proudest achievements. My peers were graduates of ivy league universities and most had advanced degrees. Here I was with my High School diploma from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights (Go Roughriders!) and I had the respect of the firm’s leadership. But it took a lot of moves and sacrifices to get there and my neck was sore from my head tapping the ceiling I’d reached.

I could have stayed there. It was a high pressure and stress environment where my professional learning was exponential. But I knew that I wanted my degree. I wanted my degree because the unfinished nature of it was ensnared in deeply painful memories, as a first-generation / low income woman of color I valued having a degree, and I understood the importance of signaling and portability.

I was enthralled with all of the pitches from startups that crossed my desk and I kept seeing a recurring and dominant profile of founders: White male grad from Stanford, major: Computer Science.

I can’t nor care to change my ethnicity, skin color, or gender but I could get a degree and it seemed like I was going to have to get it from Stanford. Major? Computer Science.

I’ll leave you with this initial seed that sparked my interest so you can get a sense of my path to tech (i.e. I have to get my three year old to sleep).

Where I’ve Been + 1st day Senior year @Stanford

23 Sep

First, I’ve been super inconsistent with posting. I’d been taking several intensive creative writing classes at school and all of my efforts was poured into those courses. But happy to get back to writing. You will see a shift on what I write about, I will still share my experiences but I will also start writing about my technical experience and journey.

This has been a heck of a year with many setbacks but also opportunities for growth and introspection and I feel ready to share.

Biggest update: I’m a senior at Stanford, as in I am only 3 sweet quarters away from having my computer science AI track diploma.

As many of you know, it has been a long road here folks. All of my courses are grad level this quarter – I love me some study groups w/ students who aren’t stuck on the high school hamster wheel of competing and lack of collaboration. I’m excited for Andrew Ng’s CS 229 Machine Learning course (this morning’s lecture – talk about natural high) and (Hi! Moses Charikar! Loved CS 221 Artificial Intelligence in the Spring), CS 230 Deep Learning course (also w/ Andrew Ng), CS 224W Machine Learning with Graphs because I mean come on talk about cool, and CS 238 Decision under Uncertainty (still trying to figure out what is not covered in this course). I have another class but one of these has to go bc go-hard type A 20 somethings may like taking 19 units but this mom of three already has a heavy load. You try raising a 3yo, 13 yo, and 14yo with those units and then get back to me. 😉

But to back up and give you some insight as to why I am so excited…

I’ve been working hard to face and work through my past traumas (and boy are there many) to meaningfully improve (not just patch which I’m great at) my mental health.

I could write a book about how difficult it is to get help as a first generation / low income Latina. There are so many hurdles to just being able to admit that you need help, that you need to slow down and really change how you cope with hurt and past memories. I’ve always been pro-mental health resources for others but for myself? It took extreme events to crack me wide open and even then I resisted. So I am proud of all of the hard work I’ve done and continue to do to make sure I am in tune with myself and with what makes me feel safe, healthy, and happy.

Earlier this summer

I was in a bad car accident on the 280 N

on the way to my internship where I collided with the cement barrier at 70+ mph when a car swerved onto my lane (the fastest lane). That collision ricocheted my 2006 Honda Accord across all lanes of the freeway (with minimal driving visibility as all airbags deployed) until the car kept going up the hillside and I thought to pull the emergency break on the way down before I reversed back onto morning traffic. I managed to climb out of my totaled car as it was smoking only to start violently shaking after a couple of steps. I looked around to make sure I didn’t hit anyone else and scanned for the other car. It never stopped, just kept going. And it’s crazy to admit but that really got to me. It hurt my feelings deeply that someone wouldn’t even stop to check if I was okay after they caused the accident. Two very kind and generous samaritans pulled over and helped me dial 911. I wish I remember their names because they did just what I needed. To take control and get help and to hold me so I wouldn’t have a full panic attack.

It took me a while to get over that accident. When I collided with the barrier I was terrified my car would flip over to the other side (and onto oncoming drivers on the 280 S) where there is a significant descent. I thought to grip and control my steering wheel but as I careened across all of the lanes in rush hour traffic I kept thinking of my girls and who would mother them if I died. I’ve experienced a few near death events in my life including being held at gunpoint a couple times but

I had never felt this kind of raw fear of dying before.

Having so much to live for makes a fucking difference, I’ll tell you that.

It was a life altering experience for me. It got me thinking about who I am and whether I am living by my principles. It made for a very vulnerable and emotionally difficult summer.

I remade the decision of not drinking.

I’ve done this before, going through dry spells to prove that I am nowhere near in danger of becoming an alcoholic like my parents. If you were raised by alcoholics, you know what I mean. The fear that you’ll end up just like them is real and can elicit feelings of shame, self-loathing, among other lovely negative self-attacks. But this time was different.

I didn’t want to keep using a drink here or there, ‘I just need a drink to unwind’, ‘I need a drink to brave this networking event’, etc. I was getting a bit too comfortable with the sentence ‘I need’ always ending with ‘drink’. So I decided to go cold turkey. First to just get a sense of being able to go without alcohol (without setting a goal bc you can’t fail if you have no goals), then to see how I coped with everything sober, then to remember that I am fundamentally someone who holds many negative associations with alcohol, and then because I feel so much more present with my family and to be honest because I like myself so much more sober. It’s hard when you get a memory flashback and you drink to drown it bc it’s too much to try to even acknowledge the memory, but then you get sad and you think of other effed up memories and you drink more so you can just sleep and forget. It’s not a good cycle and one I wanted to break. It’s been two weeks of not drinking and I am really digging the strength I have shown when these memories or my PTSD is triggered.

I feel like brave Susana again and I like that.

So here I am back on sunny campus and I feel light. I’m smiling as I bike through the engineering quad to get to class. I don’t get anxious at what a sweaty mess I am after the 4 mi bike ride.

I feel at home when I sit down on the front row with my friends and really take in that I am here, in front of Andrew Ng about to have my brain tickled with knowledge.

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