ASEE CDEI Scholar Spotlight Series: Brissa Quiroz

Brissa Quiroz, Ph.D, Telling her story to empower Latino and first-generation students

In this blog post, we will hear from Brissa Y. Quiroz, Ph.D, University Relations Lead for Microsoft, supporting Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges.

Dr. Brissa Y. Quiroz

Dr. Brissa Y. Quiroz

Prior to her role at Microsoft, Dr. Quiroz was a full-time Engineering Lecturer and served as the Director of the Valley Industry Partnership for Cooperative Education in the Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State University. In that role, she developed and supported strategic relationships with agricultural and manufacturing companies throughout California and Central Valley by working to fulfill their employment needs with engineering and construction management student interns. These companies, in turn, provided students the opportunity to learn from real world problems and to gain hands-on experience with a competitive salary, preparing them for permanent employment. Dr. Quiroz has served as co-PI of a $2,638,250 NSF grant “The AGEP California State University Underrepresented Minority STEM Faculty Alliance Model: A Culturally-Informed Strengths Based Approach to Advance Early-Career Faculty Success.” She has coordinated a $2,996,913 grant from the US Department of Education titled STEAM: Enriched Pathways. Dr. Quiroz’ professional career is centered on serving as a bridge between her passion for STEM and community outreach and education. Her ultimate goal is to empower every student to succeed in college, and especially, help increase recruitment and retention of students in higher education including low income and minority groups. Dr. Quiroz has a BS degree in Industrial Engineering, an MS degree in Industrial Technology and a PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering. She is active member of the society of Hispanic professional engineers (SHPE) previously for Region 1 (CA),. With her relocation to Texas, she provides workshops for SHPE engineering students in Region 5.

At the end of this post, don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with our scholar and learn more about the ASEE CDEI‘s efforts.

ASEE CDEI Communications Committee Volunteers:

  • Introduction, editor and webmaster: Sarah Lester, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
  • Editors: Susan Boerchers, Lafayette College; Tershia Pinder-Grover, University of Michigan, Homero Murzi (Twitter), Virginia Tech, and Elizabeth Litzler, University of Washington.

Scholar Interview

Q1: Can you tell us your story of belongingness?

The normal for me is to be the one different in terms of gender, ethnicity, or even my academic degrees. When I started teaching at a rural community college, I was part of the Latino Faculty Staff Association (LFSA). It was a nice experience to belong in this group. However, I never realized that I was the only “faculty” in this group, until I moved to my current role at another institution and this was brought to my attention. It was incredible for me to realize the importance of my degrees in Central California as this college has 67% of Latino students enrolled, yet I was the only faculty represented as part of LFSA. As part of the community, I get invited to many events, as it is a privilege holding a PhD degree in STEM. At Fresno State, I was the only female Latina faculty in the College of Engineering until recently, when a new faculty has been hired. Unfortunately, this happened during the current Covid circumstances, and I haven’t been able to meet her.

Q2: What is your understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and why is it important to what you do?

I wasn’t aware of the many DEI terms until I started collaborating as a Co-PI for the NSF grant that I am involved with, in collaboration with other CSU campuses from California. As I explained before, I was doing many activities that I didn’t know that had a name associated with, e.g. cultural taxation. I believe that my most important contribution to this DEI project is my storytelling. I have experienced so many personal microaggressions and sometimes explicit attacks, that I want others to know about it for them to be able to protect themselves and have a cool head when facing these situations. Having knowledge of these terms and situations is a powerful tool, not to change people’s attitudes or behaviors, but to be able to cope with these, not taking things personally.

Q3: What are your current initiatives towards DEI work?

As part of Microsoft’s racial equity work, I recently started a new role as the University Relations Lead for Microsoft, supporting Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges. I am part of the university relations team, under the Corporate External and Legal Affairs (CELA) organization at Microsoft led by Brad Smith.  One focus for our team is giving each university in our portfolio a single point of contact for institutional discussions.  In other cases, we support complex multi-team engagements with the university. I bring unique perspectives supporting engineering faculty – one, that of a URM student, and two, that of an industry-university relations lead focused on diversity. My journey, first as a URM undergraduate student myself, and then as a graduate student and a doctoral degree recipient, and now an accomplished educator, industry mentor and a champion for URM student success, add richness to faculty, staff and students from my unique lived experiences.

Q4: What do you see as the next steps for your DEI work?

My work has been more focused towards helping students, and now I am learning on how to cope with situations myself. My next goal is how can I share my own personal journey with my colleagues to work on ideas on how to remove the institutional barriers at the university level to have more STEM faculty from underrepresented groups. Although I believe I am a good storyteller, my experiences are so personal that I need to better prepare myself to have the courage to talk about my journey with coworkers. How can I explain to my peers that I wasn’t able to attend my own graduation ceremony, when I had to attend my grandfather’s funeral? Or why I never bought my doctoral regalia, as this was an expense that I couldn’t afford?

Q5: What recommendations do you have for engineering educators to start incorporating social justice in their classrooms?

I attended public schools in Mexico and sometimes there were not enough chairs for all the students to sit down. So just imagine having access to an equipped lab. However, I had amazing teachers that inspired students to do chemistry or physics labs with household items. My recommendation to engineering educators is that lacking resources resources could be powerful tool to have more creative engineers, who can solve problems with constraints and minimal resources. Imagine having students like MacGyver, being able to solve situations with few items on hand. My other recommendation is to be mindful of how to explain social justice examples to students from underrepresented groups. I believe I was blessed in being naive on not knowing what others would consider impossible for me to achieve (a PhD degree). My internal motivation was to earn a doctoral degree so I could be able to financially support my parents when they had to leave Mexico due to the economic crisis and chaos caused by the drug cartels in my hometown. I was able to finish the crossing line, developing the grit needed to obtain my PhD degree. I had very supportive faculty during this time in my life and no one crushed my dreams of not pursuing my degree despite all the obstacles that I was facing (including breastfeeding a baby, while working full time as a research assistant, having a full load of classes, and living in a small apartment with my parents and other children in the household).

Q6: What resource can you recommend to people who want to learn more about DEI in your field?

There are many resources, but I believe my recommendation would be to start reading about DEI according to your level, meaning that you can get overwhelmed if you are new to this field and realize all the terms and situations that students are experiencing on a daily basis. Learn more about your own personal biases, and start implementing small changes in the classes that you are teaching to test if this makes an impact on the students that you serve.

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