It all started with Kathy Parker.
It was an ah-ha moment for Fabiola Campoblanco, a 25-year-old civil engineering intern at Sigma Consulting Group, Inc., as she thought of the role models and cheerleaders who helped her on her path to success.
Her thoughts traced back through her engineering labs at LSU, past her high school proclivity for math and science, to the English as a Second Language classroom at Labelle Aire Elementary School where Parker taught a then-11-year-old Campoblanco the skills she’d need to thrive in her new country.
Parker instilled Campoblanco with confidence in herself, recognizing an intelligent spark others might have missed in the young Venezuelan transplant. She helped her earn a slot in the school’s gifted program, which led to acceptance in Baton Rouge’s magnet school system and greater opportunities, Campoblanco said.
Parker believed in Campoblanco and championed her, a critical turning point in her path to success. Having supporters like Parker is critical, especially when you’re young, Campoblanco said.
“What you see as a young person, what you’re told as a young person and how you’re treated as a young person really shapes the way you see the world and the way you see yourself,” she said.
As an 11-year-old, Campoblanco and her family moved to Baton Rouge from Venezuela, seizing an opportunity through her father’s work visa to escape the country’s rising crime rates and stagnant economy. It was a difficult time, but the Baton Rouge community embraced her family and eased the transition into their new life, she said.
These people left a lasting impression on Campoblanco, inspiring a philanthropic drive and a need to give back to the state that welcomed her and her family during the biggest transition of their lives, she said.
Today the burgeoning civil engineer is combining her love for education, mentorship and engineering and channeling it to encourage young women to realize their potential and pursue careers in STEM fields.
Last May, Campoblanco and fellow LSU graduate Kristen Gahagan helped launch the Louisiana chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar, an international organization dedicated to connecting women in the transportation industry and encouraging their career success. She currently serves as the group’s secretary.
Before WTS, Campoblanco said industry meet-and-greets were dominated by older men, making it difficult for her to connect to their professional journeys and personal interests. Now, she has a group of nearly 40 female peers and role models that help her feel confident she can achieve both her personal and professional goals.
Despite its female-focused mission, WTS isn’t limited to women, and men play an important role in encouraging female engineers’ success. Sigma Consulting Group, Inc. president Miles B. Williams is one of three male members, and Campoblanco said she appreciates his show of support and promotion of women in STEM.
“I think when you are on the other side, it can be easy to ignore the fact that engineering isn’t as diverse as it should be,” she said. “The fact that the president of the company I work for is not only aware of this situation, but is also supportive of the things I do to help with this cause is very important to me.”
Campoblanco said it doesn’t make sense that the engineering industry is still so far from gender balance. Women have equal mental capacity for math and science as men, and LSU engineering professors have regularly noted female students are at the top of their classes at WTS events.
She said the gap likely exists due to a lack of encouragement. Young girls may not realize STEM fields are viable career options, or may not receive the encouragement they need to feel capable of success in an industry historically viewed as a man’s field.
WTS members are working to change that, Campoblanco said. This spring, WTS members and their companies hosted a community event for local schoolgirls and Girl Scout troops, sponsoring various engineering games and activities to spark the young women’s interest.
When girls see women working in engineering, they’re more likely to picture themselves in the field, she said. One girl imagining a future as an engineer is Campoblanco’s 7-year-old niece, Sofia.
Campoblanco said she regularly gifts Sofia engineering toys and speaks with her about projects she works on at Sigma. The purpose isn’t to force an interest in math and science upon her, but to show Sofia she has options and is capable of achieving her dreams — no matter what she’s interested in, Campoblanco said.
Campoblanco’s own career aspirations are diverse.
At the end of her engineering career, Campoblanco said she hopes to work as a teacher either in engineering or high school math. Education is the best way to empower others and continue improving society, and it’s important to give back the knowledge you’ve gleaned, she said.
“No matter at what state you are, you always know a little more than the person below you and you can always teach them something,” she said. “I feel like it’s a responsibility almost, to go back and teach other people what you’ve learned.”