News | July 24, 2020

College of EngineeringNews

Software engineering grad mentors young women in STEM

Gutierrez fosters dialogue among students around the world

Kyara Gutierrez’s passion to build and design runs deep. The recent Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) graduate comes from a family of engineers. Her decision to pursue a software engineering degree was only natural as her grandfather, an immigrant from Mexico, ensured the family knew these technical related jobs would always be in demand.

“I chose software engineering because I felt like I could work in any field. I would never get bored,” said Gutierrez.

Photo shows FGCU alumna
Spring graduate Kyara Gutierrez achieved her dream — a job as a software engineer at Microsoft. Photo submitted.

She became interested in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM –at a young age as both of her parents pursued careers in those fields. Gutierrez says being surrounded with love and brilliant minds made it a safe environment in which to ask questions.

“We moved to Germany for one of my dad’s jobs. I remember saying, ‘I want to be a software engineer, I want to travel the world,’ ” she said. “Ever since then my dad really pushed me. I was doing science and engineering fairs through elementary and high school.”

Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Gutierrez saw an opportunity to pursue an engineering degree in Florida with its proximity to the Space Coast. She felt at home at FGCU with smaller class sizes and the ability to have personal relationships with professors. Gutierrez was one of eight women in her software engineering major.

“I think it was my mission for us to become close. All eight of us are best friends,” she said. “We were only talking about school at first, but then it became personal. We supported each other while studying, helped each other find jobs and celebrated when we all received offers.”

Gutierrez’s hard work at FGCU paid off. Before her spring graduation, she received a dream offer to become a software engineer at Microsoft. It was this announcement on Instagram that unexpectedly initiated her new role as a mentor.

“When I received my offer from Microsoft, I posted it to my Instagram and it just blew up. People I didn’t know were commenting. Then I received inquiries from STEM pages that advocated for girls and Latinas in STEM,” Gutierrez said.

Direct messages started flying. Her inbox was flooded with messages from fellow women engineers and questions from high school girls wanting to follow in her footsteps.

“They asked me questions from what it was like taking classes, to what classes should they take to get prepared, or even what it was like balancing friendships and a personal life,” Gutierrez said.

She credits her success in STEM to her own mentors, like her parents and FGCU professors. But she never thought she would become one so quickly, especially through social media. Gutierrez makes it a priority to stay active online and encourages open dialogue with young women wanting to pursue a future in STEM.

“At first it was like me helping out as a friend. It was just normal. But then it was when a young girl said, ‘Thank you for being a good mentor,’ I realized these girls are asking me questions that could alter their lives,” she said.

Being a STEM mentor is a big responsibility, yet so needed. According to data from the U.S. Census, women represent only about a quarter of those employed in STEM fields. Becoming a mentor for young women has pushed Gutierrez to be a better person and work harder in her own career.

“These girls are looking at my posts, they are looking at my stories and they are watching how I move,” she said. “That’s when I realized this is pretty big.”

Her mentoring does not stop stateside. Gutierrez has helped young women around the world, including some in England, Mexico and the Philippines. Her first priority? She makes sure her mentees know what a STEM career entails. Gutierrez also stresses that they don’t have to be a genius in math or science to be successful in STEM. They just have to work hard.

“I think the main problem is a lot of people don’t know what it is. Look it up because you want to have some kind of interest,” said Gutierrez. “There are so many different routes that can fit your personality.”

Gutierrez will bring her virtual following with her to North Carolina as she starts her new job with Microsoft. She looks forward to the rewards mentorship will bring as she grows in her career, sharing new ideas with her mentees around the world.