Roots: Carrying cultural values through academics and the arts

Grecia performs at the 2023 Scholars Weekend talent show in August

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 – October 15 every year. The Latin American countries Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica celebrate their independence from Spain on September 15, and shortly after, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18.  This blog post is part of a series highlighting Latino and Hispanic Cooke Scholars and how they stay connected to their heritage while pursuing their college degrees.

For Grecia Siono Gutierrez, her Mexican heritage and culture is a big inspiration for all aspects of her life. She always carries a belief in hard work and optimism with her, whether she spends the day doing challenging electrical engineering coursework or dedicating her free time to her community.

“Growing up in Mexico, I was very in touch with the values of traditional Mexican culture. I just love how, everywhere we go we carry those values with us,” Grecia says. “For me, it’s about the discipline aspect and the perserverence. We are hardworking people with big dreams. We are dreamers and we work hard to achieve them.”

A native of Mexicali, Mexico, a town just below the U.S. border, Grecia attended community college at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. She would cross the border to attend courses with her mother and brother each week, who also attended College of the Desert, staying with relatives or making the two-hour journey back and forth daily.

Earlier this year, Grecia and her brother Jose Enrique, who is one year younger than she is, were both selected as semifinalists for the Cooke Transfer Scholarship. Grecia made it to the final round as a finalist and received the scholarship. She and her brother are both attending University of California at San Diego this fall as electrical engineering majors.

One of Grecia’s role models is 2016 Cooke Transfer Scholar Katya Echazaretta, who has been making headlines ever since she became the first ever Mexican-born woman to travel to Space on a Blue Origin mission last summer. Grecia saw Katya mention the Cooke Scholarship on her Tik Tok account, and decided to apply.

“She is my biggest inspiration,” Grecia says.

As a woman with a passion and talent for electrical engineering, the opportunities were often limited for Grecia as she attended middle school and high school in Mexico. She recalls being expected to only do “ladylike” administrative work for the robotics club she was in, whereas the boys in the club were allowed to get hands on experience with the actual robots.

“This experience was what inspired me to start a robotics club at my community college,” Grecia says. “I really wanted to create a safe and inclusive learning environment.”

At College of the Desert, Grecia was met with support and enthusiam for pursuing her electrical engineering passion and dreams of working at NASA. The faculty made sure students had equal opportunity to study and explore the world of aerospace, and through an internship program called NASA On Campus, Grecia was able to learn about and go through the process of NASA mission design. One of her professors formerly worked in NASA’s jet propulsion lab, and through a research course created by this connection, Grecia and her classmates designed a satellite that monitored CO2 levels in the Salton Sea, a nearby body of water that produces heavy pollution and is causing serious concern for the surrounding community.

This fall, Grecia is settling into her new apartment in San Diego and looking forward to pursuing her coursework with more focus since she won’t have to travel back and forth between Mexicali and campus any longer. She plans to hit the ground running and join clubs and research opportunities related to electrical engineering and her other interests. Her courses tend to have very few women and Latine students in them, so she also plans to seek out classmates from similar backgrounds so they can support each other.

“I’m always trying to find my network of female engineers,” Grecia says.

Grecia is still heavily involved in STEM advocacy in her hometown of Mexicali, and works with youth who are also interested in electrical engineering but lack access to opportunities for experience and education. The high school she attended has a university, and she has recently been recruited to help develop STEM programming there. She always makes sure to pay special attention to young women who have big dreams like her when doing advocacy work, since they are often overlooked or left out.

In her free time, when she’s not studying, running amazing robotics clubs, or supporting STEM education in Mexico, she loves to connect to her roots through music. She grew up learning all types of dance, playing violin, and listening to mariachi music with her father. She has recently rediscovered her love of folklórico, traditional Mexican dance. This summer, Grecia opened up the 2023 Scholars Weekend talent show, an annual tradition for new Cooke College and Transfer Scholars, with a folklórico performance.

“Since I grew up in Mexico, I’ve always been very connected to my heritage. As a kid, I would work really hard in class but after school, you would find me in dance class,” Grecia says.

Through all the multifaceted parts of Grecia’s life, her Mexican heritage inspires and propels her forward. She wants other young Mexican women to know that they can achieve their dreams too, even when it means literally shooting for the stars as an aerospace engineer.

The Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship application will open on October 5, 2023. Sign up to receive updates about the Cooke Foundation scholarship programs here.