Karen Vazquez: Modeling the ‘perfect’ mentor

Karen Vazquez, PhD student, Civil Engineering

Being the first is hard, but it’s nothing new for Karen Vazquez.

As a first-generation college student, Vazquez is determined to show young Latinas that they belong in the field of civil engineering. That the imposter syndrome and the insecurity they might feel can be overcome. And that there are engineers who look like them, understand their stories, and believe in their potential.

“I’ve always looked up to my mentors,” she says. “And thinking about how I can potentially have that impact on someone else keeps me going.”

Vazquez is part of Lehigh’s Pasteur Partners PhD (P3) Fellowship program, and she is working with the nonprofit Gas Technology Institute on virtual energy districts. “We’re trying to see if we can tackle issues like brownouts in California, so states can meet unexpected demand and people have energy.”

While she’s just starting the second year of her PhD program, Vazquez has already found in Shalinee Kishore, Iacocca Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the “perfect” mentor she intends to someday model.

“She’s everything I want to be, a successful woman in engineering, a woman of color with a beautiful family. She’s able to publish and present and still go to games and recitals. Seeing her do it all makes me think, Okay, it is possible.”

Next up: Nan Wu >>

This profile is part of Resolve Magazine's Soaring Together series.