Alumna Lauren (Milisits) Gonzalez (BS MechE ’13, BS CS ’14) still remembers getting the letter in the mail that meant she could attend Carnegie Mellon. It wasn’t her acceptance letter; that had already arrived.
It was a scholarship award notice. With it, combined with federal grants, she could afford to accept her CMU admission.
“I remember telling my mom once, ‘I hope one day I’m able to give back as much as I got in scholarships so that somebody else could do the same,’ sort of as a pay-it-forward gesture,” Gonzalez said.
She recently set up an endowed scholarship for the Department of Mechanical Engineering to do just that with the help of her employer’s match program. By endowing the scholarship, Gonzalez ensured it will partially support at least one engineering student each year in perpetuity.
“If I’m able to make what I do go further, then I might as well,” she said, noting that many companies match their employees’ charitable donations—doubling their impact—like Shell does for her.
Women in engineering
Gonzalez hopes the scholarship will encourage undergraduate students to pursue engineering, particularly women, given their persistent underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
Growing up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill with parents who encouraged her interest in STEM, Gonzalez said she didn’t realize there was a gender imbalance in STEM until college. Over the years, her parents had enrolled her in as many university outreach programs as they could.
“It was through all of those free programs that kept my interest in science and engineering. And I never once doubted that I could do it,” she said. “So then, when I actually was going to school, that’s where I started to hear the stereotypes of, ‘Oh, you’re a woman. Are you sure you’re going into engineering?’ or ‘Oh, you’re in CS? You don’t look like a CS major.’”
Those responses irritated her, driving her to help more women get into STEM.
Tackling big problems
After her undergraduate years, Gonzalez moved to Texas where she worked as a test automation engineer at a start-up and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to earn her master’s in mechanical engineering. She briefly interned for Shell while still a graduate student. The company then offered her a full-time position, leading to an opportunity to work offshore on one of the company’s largest floating platforms, Appomattox, in the Gulf of Mexico. She continued to climb, becoming a project manager and, now, a business advisor to the vice president of information and digital engineering in Houston.
COVID-19 added challenges and barriers, but Gonzalez said she’s proud of her and her team’s resilience throughout the pandemic. They delivered a multi-million-dollar project on time, on budget, and on target “from our pajamas at home,” she joked. And she delivered a baby in the middle of it.
Her experience in the Department of Mechanical Engineering helped equip her for such challenges by exposing her to different people, projects, and work ethics, she said. She found that she likes “big problems that challenge the world, that have major impact.”
“We worked our butt off in school,” Gonzalez said. “And knowing how difficult that can be, it helps to build up the mindset that when something’s not easy, you don’t just quit right away and give up, because we wouldn’t be tackling big problems, and we wouldn’t be changing things if as soon as you hit a roadblock, you quit.”
The College of Engineering also provided some of her favorite memories while at CMU—trips to Peru and China with educational and industry components. Opportunities she never would have had if not for scholarships.
Every thousand dollars, every hundred dollars I got towards the scholarship completely changed my path.Lauren (Milisits) Gonzalez, Business Advisor to VP Information & Digital Engineering, Shell
Education changed her life, she said, and motivates her philanthropy. Gonzalez encourages other alumni to consider how they can change someone’s life, even with small donations.
“Because I’m telling you, every thousand dollars, every hundred dollars I got towards the scholarship completely changed my path,” she said.
Pictured, top: Lauren (Milisits) Gonzalez poses for a photo in 2018 with the Appomattox oil platform in the background in the Gulf of Mexico.