My Engineering Moment
For Claire Clark, a college robotics competition was more than just practical experience—it was the moment that she knew she was meant to be an engineer.
Jen Saucedo discovered her love for math and science at an early age. She knew that an education in STEM would offer endless possibilities for her, but she would need help along the way. Breakthrough Central Texas, an organization that helps first-generation college students find a path to and through college, would be her compass to a brighter future.
One of her favorite memories from Breakthrough is of her first summer camp with the program. She made new friends with whom she explored the University of Texas at Austin’s campus and shared courses led by college students.
Many of the courses offered in summer camp prepared her for the following academic year—an advantage she credits to Breakthrough. But there were other moments that also made an impact. On a retreat with fellow classmates, the group bonded over activities that she felt were symbolic of the transition they would soon make to college.
Jen said, “They set up these obstacle courses with ziplines and really outrageous scary things.
It was very metaphorical, as I was also preparing to leap into something that felt scary—going to college in Indiana, away from my family in Texas.”
Breakthrough paired Jen with an advisor throughout high school, someone who she considers to be a close friend even today. Advisors in the program would often meet with their students to offer guidance and listen to their concerns. It was her advisor who proposed that Jen take a high school course that would give her the confidence to pursue an engineering degree.
“[Her advisor] suggested, ‘Hey, why don't you try out this new class that your school is offering.’ It was a physics course that was a really safe space for girls to come together and not feel judgment or pressure. And she helped me get into that class. That's where I truly fell in love with engineering,” Jen said.
Jen was confident that she would be the first in her family to graduate from college, but where she would attend school wasn’t as clear. With help from Breakthrough, Jen applied for a scholarship to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
Jen said, “Breakthrough connected me to that scholarship that, when I learned that I got it, flew me and my advisor to Indiana. They did so much just for one student, which made me feel very special. But really, my visit kind of confirmed something I already knew—that this was where I needed to be. This was the path I needed to take.”
Without Breakthrough’s guidance and financial assistance, Jen says that it’s possible she wouldn’t have pursued an education or career in STEM.
“Breakthrough made it a lot easier for me, because they helped explain the application and scholarship process. As far as a career in STEM, though, I don't know if that’s what I would have chosen. I actually was applying to college as an English major before I got into Rose-Hulman,” she said.
After graduating college in 2019, Jen had the opportunity to lead a class of Breakthrough students over the summer.
“I’ve always dreamt of becoming a Breakthrough teacher, mainly because my Breakthrough teachers positively impacted me and I looked up to my teachers in middle school,” Jen said.
“When I accepted my job at NI, I was given a few different starting dates to choose from, which was perfect. I chose a later date to have my summer off, so that I could be a Breakthrough teacher,” said Jen. “I was mentoring and teaching an engineering course for incoming ninth grade students, and that was honestly one of the highlights of my life. It was so much fun to be able to give back to the community that has given me so much.”
Before joining NI, Jen didn’t know that Breakthrough Central Texas and NI have partnered since 2005. But the connection between her experience with Breakthrough and NI is special to her.
“I was able to tell my students, ‘Hey, I'm going to be working for this company. I'm going to be an engineer in three months.’ It was very much a feeling of pride,” Jen said. “This company that I work for cares so much about a demographic that I'm a part of. And I've gotten this far because of a program like Breakthrough. It feels very full circle.”
In 2020, Breakthrough Central Texas helped more than 2,000 Austin-area students in grades 6–college prepare for and succeed throughout college. Visit Breakthrough Central Texas to learn more about its volunteering opportunities and community partnerships.
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