Last updated 04/05/2022
Esmeralda Catalina Leon is a senior studying Aerospace Engineering. This year she is serving as Vice President of Community Outreach for SHPE USC (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers). Her efforts encourage young students in K-12 to pursue careers in STEM. She is also a mentor for GEAR UP 4 LA in which she helps freshmen navigate through their first year of college.” Her sophomore year she served as Ambassador for the Center for Engineering Diversity Mentor Program advising high school students in the transition to college.
She and her brother are the first in their family to attend college. Her dream is to work in aeronautics, designing airplanes and space shuttles. She is currently interested in learning about different materials and how they impact the aerodynamics of flight.
This semester her classes include Linear Control Systems, Aircraft Design, and Physics 3. Many of us would look at these classes and find them overwhelmingly challenging, but to Esmeralda, there is excitement, as these courses should be fun and enjoyable
Her path towards her major began while attending Belmont High School. The school was split into academies and as her interests were in math and science she decided to join the Belmont Engineering Academy. She liked what she was learning and after meeting the head of the USC STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), she was invited to join the Math Engineering Science Achievement Club (MESA).
Through her MESA membership, she was introduced to USC Viterbi School’s student organization, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). She has been an active member of SHPE since her freshman year and this year she is serving as vice-president of Community Outreach. Her efforts encourage young students in their K-12 Outreach program to pursue careers in STEM, by helping them to identify their interests through a variety of educational opportunities.
Since 7th grade, she has been a member of GEAR UP 4 LA, (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness), a federally funded program, that addresses challenges faced by low-income, first-generation, minority students. She received mentoring through GEAR UP in high school and her freshman year at USC. This year she is mentoring a freshman in Engineering at the University of California-Merced in helping them to navigate their first year academically and socially. She enjoys helping her peers, and the work she does with the K – 12 students.
The Caldwell Scholarship has helped her with college expenses so she has been able to focus on her academic courses, lifting the financial burden off of her shoulders. As she moves into her last two semesters, and the school is getting more expensive, her financial needs have gradually increased. Since June 2019 she has worked at Trader Joe’s to help pay these rising costs. She enjoys working at Trader Joe’s, as it is a good work environment and this job has kept her sane over the past year under Covid-19 restrictions.
Esmeralda has a great attitude, as Covid has interrupted the most important year of her education, she presents a positive attitude and perseverance as virtual learning has been challenging in her family’s small apartment. The living room, where her family gathers, is her classroom. Covid also impacted last fall’s Aerospace Structures course, which usually hosts a number of guest speakers, engineers from local companies, as restrictions made it impossible to host the lecture series. Also, canceled were visits to engineering sites around the LA area.
In the fall of 2021, she will return to USC for three final courses to complete her degree. One of the courses, Senior Design, puts students into groups in which they propose, design, and construct to model and test a physical principle or system.
When Esmeralda completes her undergraduate degree, she plans on working in the aerospace engineering field before applying to graduate school.
Fun fact: She loves horror movies and baking “slutty brownies,” or as she and her friend call them, “diabetes in a bite.” They are baked as a three-layer dessert; stacking an Oreo on a chocolate chip cookie, topped with a brownie. She advises that one has to be careful not to burn them. I asked what class could help her in avoiding burning the dessert and she replied, “Thermal Dynamics.”