Alba Colón is the only top Hispanic, female engineer in the sport of NASCAR racing. She is the Chevy engineer for the NASCAR Sprint series. For National Engineers Week, Colón spoke about her unique path to becoming a top engineer.
Alba Lynette Colón Rodriguez doesn’t hesitate to challenge social norms. “My family was very Catholic, and I remember my brother, he was an altar boy. And I remember asking my mom if I could be an altar boy too. And my mother said, “No, you can’t because you’re a girl.” I just looked at her and I was like, “I don’t understand!” You’re telling me that because I’m a girl I’m not allowed to do something?”
Alba was born in Spain and raised in Puerto Rico. She didn’t always want to be a NASCAR engineer, but she kept her dreams big. As a child, she said she dreamed of being an astronaut for NASA. With a teacher as a mother and a doctor for a father, education was always emphasized in her family who lived near the University of Puerto Rico, and that’s where she studied mechanical engineering. She was often the only female in her classes, but for her, that was normal.
“Now, they have a lot of females in the engineering school. But when I started there more than 20 years ago, there were hardly any females in engineering. So you learn to work with the guys. But it’s not a big deal. It became the normal for me. I believe that normal is whatever you want to make it be. I know many people who say, “Oh you have to work with guys. How does it feel?” But I don’t see myself doing it any other way. I still think we should have more females, in [all fields of study].”
While working in a predominantly white, male field is normal for her, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t encountered obstacles along the way due to her race and gender.
“First, let me say NASCAR has been very amazing and open to me working there. At first people used to say, “So what exactly are you doing here?” I’d say, “Well, I’m an engineer coming to work with you.” So when I entered in Modem Sports, some of my bosses were worried about if I would be able to handle it. It was a touchy subject. But you deal with that. They were expecting something different. For example, in the past, when you were thinking of a nurse, the stereotype is a lady, and now more and more graduate nurses are male. It was different back then than it is now.”
Alba says that while her mother was initially hesitant about her becoming an engineer, she is now Alba’s No. 1 fan. When Alba’s not traveling to races for her job as Chevrolet’s program manager, she lives with her husband in Michigan. Alba’s resistance to conventional stereotypes has led her to become a very successful woman.
“I think the way we are raised, socially speaking, has been about trying to put this career for males, this career for females. I’ve heard a lot of “No, you can’t do this” but every time someone said no to me just gave me more strength to do it. And I really believe education is key. We need to teach the future generations that high school is not the end—you need to push through.”
This post is also available in: Spanish