Congratulations to junior electrical engineering student Yoelis “Jo” Brito on receiving the 2021 annual Acopian Power Supply Engineering Scholarship! This scholarship is given to talented, full-time undergraduate engineering students pursuing studies in power electronics or a similar discipline. “Ms. Brito’s stellar academic and extracurricular accomplishments, coupled with her focus on alternative clean energy sources, made her the obvious scholarship recipient,” said Alex Karapetian, President of Acopian. “We are excited to see all the great things that are in her future path.”
Meet Yoelis Brito ’23
What are you involved in on and off campus?
At TCNJ: member of SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) and The Humanitarian Engineering Club
Off Campus: part of NJ LEEP (Law and Education Empowerment Project) in Newark tutoring middle schoolers part-time, assisted families in the area with applying for unemployment, connected them to food pantries/school food drives and worked as a translator for Spanish to English & English to Spanish for vaccine information during the pandemic
What drew you towards pursuing a degree in electrical engineering?
My dad did construction and ever since I was little, he would say, “Even though you’re a girl, I still want you to come to work and help me”. It was the best experience. He didn’t let me touch the dangerous things and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. So when I went home, I would destroy things (at the time I didn’t think I was destroying them, I was taking them apart and going to fix them later but I could never fix them). As I got older, I wanted to learn how to actually fix them.
When I was in high school, I joined the robotics team and I immediately fell in love. My first year, I did the electrical department with wiring the robots for the FIRST Robotics competitions. I just really liked the creative environment, using my hands and learning while not being in a classroom (and not realizing that I’m learning). My senior year, I became captain of the team. I knew then that I wanted to dive deeper into electrical engineering.
Where did your sustainability & renewable energy interests come from?
I’m from Newark, which is a very heavily populated city and the biggest city in NJ. Growing up, I realized that a lot of kids my age suffered from asthma. My whole family suffered from asthma and I used to associate it with obesity. Through time, I realized that pollution and air pollution play a big factor in the development of children. In a heavily polluted area, they are more likely to develop respiratory issues. As a 13 year old, I investigated and did what research I could and realized that the energy sector plays a major role in air pollution which a lot of people don’t realize. They think it’s just cars and gasoline, but electricity causes pollution as well. I wanted to see what I can do to give back to communities like Newark and other overpopulated areas to have better air quality and to just have an overall better quality of life.
Why TCNJ ECE?
After I got into electrical engineering, I realized I was more interested in the energy-electrical side of developing alternative energy solutions and that I wanted to be more hands-on. When I came touring TCNJ around junior year of high school and heard about Dr. Deese’s Sustainability Europe trip (https://engineering.tcnj.edu/
How do you bring your background & identity to your college life?
I’m from a Hispanic household with a lot of desire to conform to societal standards (eg. straightening my hair, speaking only in English, etc…) and I always felt that that was wrong. I wanted to embrace and represent my culture so when I would go to school, I would wet my hair in the sink, let my curly hair down and speak more Spanish to my friends who spoke Spanish. It really became valuable to me to not hide who I am regardless of what aspect of my life it is whether it’s my sexuality, heritage or ethnicity. They’re part of who I am and I don’t want to hide who I am. At college, I like to represent and show that I am comfortable with my identity either by wearing my curls out or when people ask my name, I say it with the accent that’s proper. My name is part of my identity, it’s part of my Hispanic culture, so I’m taking ownership of it.
Tell me about your experience as a woman and person of color in engineering:
As not only a person of color but also a woman in engineering, I’ve found that we are severely outnumbered. In my freshman year, I think I was one of three women in a forty-something student class for physics. I remember thinking, is this what I should expect throughout the rest of my career? I experienced some imposter syndrome but I’ve been hearing that everyone suffers from that. I’m also a Cooperman College Scholar and we have mentors. My mentor really helped me realize that everyone suffers from imposter syndrome regardless of what part of their identity is causing it. I was advised, “Acknowledge everyone is just as lost as you are, but you are here so you deserve to be here.”
When I realized that a lot of my professors spoke with an accent and I had several women professors, all at the PhD level, I thought “Okay, that means I can do it too”. It was definitely a big help for me to acknowledge that while there may be some obstacles in the future, if I am confident in my ability and in what I can do, then I shouldn’t let the possibility of discrimination or not being seen as enough hinder me from achieving my goals.
I’m happy because this semester, the same group of women are in all of my classes so we communicate with each other. Also, the fact that there are not as many women has allowed me to develop my social skills. When I first came to college, I felt like some professors would speak to the male students and not acknowledge what I was saying. Now, I feel like I can just jump right in and make my point and then walk away because I feel like that’s what the men in the classroom would do. They would assert their presence and that’s why the professors would listen to them. I definitely made some progress in that area.
Any ideas for your future plans yet?
As of right now, I don’t think that I will go to graduate school right after college. I’m looking to apply for internships for the summer. I plan to go into the workforce and I’m most interested in working for a company that values sustainability and alternative energy solutions while also taking into consideration the accessibility of those things. Yes, green energy is great but if it’s not accessible to the people who most need it, then there are some ethical issues that need to be resolved. The PSE&G’s headquarters is in my hometown and they have a sustainability intern opportunity that I’m looking to apply for. It’s in my community, they value the things that I value and also emphasize that they want to give back to Newark. Right now, that’s number one on my list of prospects. Any company that has similar values as I do, that’s who I’m looking to intern with. Hopefully that internship will open doors to a full time position after graduation or allow me to see if this isn’t what I want to do. Any experience is good experience.
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