Photo caption: Beatris Mendez Gandica works with high school and middle school students at a Youth in STEM program offered by UW-Eau Claire's honors chapter of Beta Alpha Psi to about 100 high school and middle school students at UW-Eau Claire in April.
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumna Beatris Mendez Gandica envisions a day when children of all ethnicities and incomes are able to grow up and pursue careers in STEM fields.
“There are not many people who look like me in tech,” says Mendez Gandica, who grew up in Venezuela.
Mendez Gandica, a 2013 UW-Eau Claire information systems and international business graduate, is a program manager at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. She also is CEO and founder of Nuevo Foundation, a nonprofit that has offered computer coding and other technology classes to more than 15,000 children in 33 countries.
“I want to inspire children to do big things,” Mendez Gandica told a gathering of high school and middle school students at UW-Eau Claire. “If it happened to me, it can happen to you.”
In 2021, she was chosen as one of 125 women in STEM in the U.S. to be immortalized in a display of life-sized 3D statues that were on display around the country, including the Smithsonian Institute.
During a Youth in STEM program offered by UW-Eau Claire's honors chapter of Beta Alpha Psi to about 100 high school and middle school students at UW-Eau Claire in April, Mendez Gandica shared her thoughts about her time as a Blugold and her passion to encourage more diversity and women in computer coding:
You have been at Microsoft for nine years. What do you do there?
I work on the Azure cloud platform. My day to day is making sure the projects run on time, that all the code passes, that all the documentation exists so the customers we work with can onboard to our platform.
How did your experiences at UW-Eau Claire impact the path of your life and your career?
I was very happy at UW-Eau Claire because the classes were very small and the teachers were very approachable. I think that more than anything, not being in a huge classroom learning how to code helped. Also, being able to go abroad helped shape me. I already had lived in Germany and I am from Venezuela, but being able to add China and India as part of my university experience helped give me an edge when it came time to apply for a full-time job.
Who is the one person you knew at UW-Eau Claire you still may talk to, think about or reference?
Dr. Jean Pratt (professor and associate dean in the College of Business, information systems), Dr. Judy Rene Sims (professor emerita of communication and journalism) and DeeAnn Peterson (senior lecturer in accounting and finance). All the professors taught me to keep pushing and I developed resiliency. Even if you failed, you learned to continue. I think different professors and their different traits prepare you to work in that corporate environment. I’m super thankful for the education I had.
What is something you have done that 20-year-old you wouldn’t have believed?
Working in big tech. I never thought that was possible. Secondly, the statue was crazy. What’s even more crazy was being able to bring my mom and grandma to Washington, D.C., to the Smithsonian to see it. My grandma cried she was so happy. We’re from Venezuela. This country has adopted us. I am very thankful for the opportunities the U.S. has brought to us.
What advice would you give to current and future Blugolds?
Think outside the box. If I hadn’t listened to other people who saw the potential that I couldn’t see, I probably would have just gone back to my country or would have stayed and done something else. I thought what’s the worst thing that could happen if I apply to Microsoft? They could say no, but if they say yes, my entire future changes. It doesn’t have to be tech, it could be any job. You define your options and you try.
Why did you start the Nuevo Foundation and why is it so important to you?
It’s important because I want to see the entire spectrum, the entire colors of the rainbow in tech. In this country, the school you go to depends on where you live. The classes that are offered in schools can be completely different. So how do we bridge the gap for people of color, people of low income, people in rural areas? How do we ensure that a kid in Idaho, a kid in Wisconsin and a kid in Florida can have the same education?
You tell students to rewrite the rules of the world. What do you mean by that?
If you don’t like something, like the situation you are in or the conditions your family lives in, you can do something about it. You are empowered, especially through technology to make it. The cool thing about coding and tech is it doesn’t matter if you’re in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, or in Singapore, the code is the same. It can be deployed to the internet in a matter of seconds no matter where you are in the world. You can rewrite your own rules if you want something different in your community, in your space, in your industry.