If nothing else, civil engineering technology student Wendy Bueno is determined. Before landing in her current major, she struggled to discover the path that was right for her. Wendy tried marketing, retail and health sciences, none of which felt like the right "fit."
Wendy felt frustrated and discouraged at times, but she says her father taught her not to let overwhelming odds stand in her way, no matter what other people might think. Eventually, she decided to give engineering technology a try, remembering the advice of an old high school math teacher who had encouraged her to pursue the subject.
Even so, Wendy initially shied away from engineering in her search to find her passion. She had always been good at math and science, but the fact that engineering is a largely male-dominated field with few women intimidated her.
"I grew up in Mullins, and as a typical girl from a small town, everyone told me 'be a nurse,' or be in a field that you see a lot of women go into," Wendy said. "I tried physical therapy first, but didn't really like it. Then, I switched to nursing. I did really well in the classroom...I'm really good in math. But I started coming to the realization that I didn't want to be in a position where someone else's life was in my hands."
After doing some research, Wendy finally decided to enroll in civil engineering classes at Florence-Darlington Technical College in 2017. Before she even started classes, she landed a part-time job at Hanna Engineering, a firm located in Florence, SC. The owner of the company saw her promise and wanted to invest in training a student, Wendy says.
At the firm, she works on data entry, reviewing specs for various projects, performing calculations and learning the art of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Wendy says her job at Hanna Engineering helps her gain valuable experience in her field and that her job and her class work complement each other.
"My classes have helped me understand the language of engineering," she said. "There is an engineering language for sure that you have to know! That has helped me with my job, and vice versa."
Still, Wendy found that balancing a work schedule and paying bills as a full-time student was a challenge.
"Money was my biggest challenge," she said. "I'm very independent, so I try not to ask my parents for help when they've already done so much."
Fortunately, Wendy qualified for the Tech Stars Scholarship, which helped pay for her tuition. The Tech Star Scholarship Program is funded by a S-STEM (Scholarships — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to Florence-Darlington Technical College. The scholarship also provides students with a laptop, which Wendy says is essential to her success as a student.
"With engineering classes, you have to special software," Wendy said. "I had an old computer, but it was not capable of running the programs I needed and I couldn't afford to buy a new one. The Tech Stars computer was crucial for me to be able to keep up in class."
Thanks to her good grades, Wendy also received a scholarship from FBi Construction in Florence.
"I was pretty excited when I found out about it," she said. "Now I don't have to take out student loans. I wouldn't be able to make it without this scholarship."
Wendy is determined to do her best and make the most of the opportunities she has been given. She says that her scholarships have relieved a lot of pressure and allowed her to focus on her studies.
Now that she is in the thick of her engineering courses, Wendy no longer feels intimidated by the fact that she's one of the only women in the program.
"It's not as scary as I thought it would be," Wendy said. "If anything, I have a lot of the guys in class asking me questions about the work. She said her instructors have been supportive, and that she has made a point not to be afraid to ask questions.
Wendy also says that her father, a carpenter originally from Mexico, had a huge influence on her work ethic and in helping her face her fears about being outnumbered in the classroom.
"My dad is Mexican, and in his job he's often the only minority," Wendy said. "He'd always tell me, 'don't let people look down on you just because you're different.' Seeing how strong he is taught me that a minority can make it.
"Just because I'm a woman, I didn't want anybody to treat me differently. I wanted to go into this field and show them what a woman is capable of."
Wendy wants people to know that she is not the only student at Florence-Darlington Technical College with a story like hers. She says she knows other young women and men who struggle to balance school, work and bills. She says she feels that local businesses should take the time to invest in scholarships and internships for students at Florence-Darlington Technical College, because "they'd be investing in a really good student who is determined to change their situation for the better."
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