Meet Andrea Garland, paving the way for Latina women in STEM

Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:54 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - “I do notice sometimes the surprise of people knowing I am an engineer,” said Andrea Garland.

She is the director of RIDE solutions, a program under the Roanoke Alleghany Regional Commission focused on reducing traffic, improving air quality and educating the community about transportation options.

Garland always knew engineering was in her future. Growing up in Colombia and seeing the mass transit system inspired her love for transportation.

“The transformation of our streets and our public transportation,” explained Garland. “That gave me the desire to pursue transportation and to pursue even more sustainable transportation.”

Garland moved to the US to get a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in 2005. It was no easy task. Having a Latino advisor helped, but in the classroom, it was very difficult to find that same support.

“In those engineering programs you see a lot of diversity but not necessarily a lot of women,” added Garland. “And I could say I was probably the only Latin woman at that time.”

In the United States, Latinas make up just 2% of the STEM workforce, despite being 8.1% of the population. The Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity Executive Director Bevlee Watford at Virginia Tech says there are many hurdles Latina women must overcome.

“There are cultural issues as well, where, you know, women raise the family, women are working within the home. And so you have a lot of young Hispanic women who kind of bucked that tradition,” said Watford.

Right now, only 1.9 percent of engineering students at Virginia Tech are Latina women. Watford says the university has many programs to help women. Now, Virginia Tech created a living community for women in engineering to support each other. They make sure they see other women in classes.

Through her job as the director of regional sustainable transportation, Garland has worked with Roanoke City Transportation and Roanoke City Public Schools in STEM-related events. Recently she unveiled a Traffic Garden project at Westside Elementary.

“You really do see children that are like or people that look like you that think ‘oh I can do that,’” said Garland.

Garland says representation matters at all levels.