Merly Maldonado: A Latina Pursuing an Engineering Dream


Ruth Margarito, Contributor

The majority of Latinx students throughout the San Rafael High School community live in a household with parents that have received minimal to no education. There is no “Can you help me with Math or English?” but instead there is an exchange of jobs. Jobs that can be handed to these students are translating clinic papers because their parents aren’t comfortable with speaking English. They are also responsible for the math of how much money their parents should be receiving in their paycheck, just in case their boss isn’t giving them the correct amount. 

These students are expected to surpass their parents, they aren’t allowed to have excuses. There is no complaining about how hard school is because they will start bringing up how they had it way worse. As students, it’s either learning on your own or asking a teacher for help. But there is no real academic guidance or support at home for first generation students. Merly Maldonado, a Guatemalan American is facing that same struggle, but she continues to break stereotypes about female Latinas and their capabilities. 

Merly is a daughter of two immigrant parents who both came from San Carlos Sija, Guatemala, along with her two brothers and older sister. She was born in Marin County where she attended San Pedro Elementary School, primarily an all Latino school. During her attendance at San Pedro, it was noticeable that there was a lack of diversity, but the teachers were predominantly white. Owing to the fact that she excelled in her studies and conduct, she received the Consistent Achievement Award and a $5,000 dollar scholarship to Dominican University. 

Shortly after, she began middle school at Davidson Middle School where she achieved to get onto the Honor Roll all three years and advance in math. While her peers took regular seventh grade math, she was exceeding in ⅞ math. 

Sharon Hernandez, a childhood best friend says, “She is really smart, funny, and quiet, but only because she wants to get her work done.” Sharon stated that Merly was definitely a teacher’s pet, because her teachers would talk about her all the time, “they basically praised her.” 

Arriving to high school, she began to research topics in engineering. During her sophomore year, she decided that she was no longer going to be just curious so she decided to enroll in the two year program, Physics Academy. There she learned that engineering was a career she would want to pursue. The first day of Physics Academy she noticed that she was the only Latina in the classroom. There were twenty-one students at the very start of the year, five Latinos were in the class, but at the end of the year there were only fifteen students left. The other students had dropped the class, two of them were Latinos. That left Merly and two other male latinos in Physics Academy. 

During those two years, she grew self confidence and was much less intimidated by the fact that she was the only latina in the room. Although, she did feel like she had to prove herself in the first semester of Physics Academy, she later showed that she is capable to do whatever she sets her mind to. All her subduing thoughts had vanished as she began to work on her projects. She was more intrigued in the learning than the fear. Some of her achievements were creating a rocket, building a model bridge, creating a model boat, a robot, and lastly finishing the energy dissipation project. 

With no academic help she became accustomed to working and learning on her own. She “prefers to spend 30 minutes on a problem than go and ask for help from others”. For these two years her only escape was going home and working on it until she understood. Merly said, “Honestly curiosity is what got me through it.” She acknowledges that she would want to ask more questions and open herself up to receive help from teachers. Mr. Snaith, her AP Calculus AB teacher said, “She never looks nervous with anything or at least doesn’t make it look like it. She always looks confident in the work and can learn very easily. She is hardworking and humble but doesn’t flaunt her ability at all.”

Those who she surrounds herself with described Merly to be extremely smart, hard working and willing to help others in anything. Suliban Gramajo, a senior at SR said,“She wrote an essay for her college apps and it described how she was the only female Latina in the class and how intimidating that made her feel. I thought that was inspiring because although it was a hard class she challenged herself to achieve what she wants.”

This year she is taking AP Computer Science, alongside another Latina, Zully Lopez. She describes the environment to be more familiar. She notices that although there are some students that she had last year in Physics Academy, she prefers to stay around another female latina. 

Her current plans for the future are to attend college and get a degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Merly found STEM even more intriguing after she joined a one week program in Berkeley called Girls Garage. This program is a non-profit organization which offers girls a chance to learn how to weld, use power tools, and expand their knowledge in engineering, architecture and carpentry. It provides a one on one career and academic advising to be able to develop the confidence and communication skills to “navigate the intersectional challenges” young girls are facing today. 

When it comes to school, she will do everything that is required and much more. She is influenced by her hard working mother. Her mother’s life challenges make her appreciate the opportunities she has in front of her and learn how to take advantage of  them for her benefit. She notices that no matter how hard her mom works, she never moves up in society. Merly is defying expectations and using her parents’ hard work to achieve the goals she has for her life.