A Panamanian Fulbrighter Breaks Down Barriers for Female Engineers
Jul 24, 2018
By Icela Quintero, 2014-2016, Panama
Icela Quintero, 2014-2016, Panama, working at the Panama Canal as a vessel enters the Upper Chamber of the Cocolí Locks, in southbound transit (Atlantic Ocean-Gatun Lake-Pacific Ocean)
Since November 2016, I have been part of the group of engineers that oversees the control systems for the new locks of the Panama Canal. It is my dream job, and a position I would not have were it not for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. As a Panamanian, working at the Panama Canal is a responsibility, our pride and joy, and lifeblood of our country. The Panama Canal is an integral part of our history and future, and it is our duty to keep it operative. I don’t do my job for myself, but for every Panamanian. I am reminded of this key motto I now live by daily, one which the Fulbright Program cemented in me. We are to be elements of change, and as long as I am in a position to do so, I will.
I never expected to become a Fulbrighter, but life takes us on mysterious paths. I became one in a most unexpected way. I was traveling in Europe with a group of 52 Latin American students. Among them were two future Fulbrighters; one Mexican and one Uruguayan. At that point, I realized I wanted to do more for my country, and my traveling companions explained how the Fulbright Program would give me the opportunity to do so. What I did not know was that participating in Fulbright would change my life in more ways than I ever imagined.
I had an amazing educational experience at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Florida. I spent my days (and long nights) as a student in the Telecommunications and Networking Program. My main goal in this program was to learn new methods of communication in order to improve our communication system in Panama. We worked on different projects, from programming smart and self-repairing networks, to positioning systems using sensors. I learned from experienced researchers in the telecommunications field, which helped me to develop a different scientific mindset than the one I had before. My time at FIU helped me to expand my horizons in terms of what we could do with our communications networks in Panama.
Even more impactful than the scientific knowledge I gained, though, was membership in an incredible international Fulbright community. Taking part in the different seminars offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education helped me meet people who would change my worldview. I loved sharing stories and experiences with people from every corner of the globe, with different backgrounds and objectives, but the same desire to make their world a better place. I was inspired by fellow Fulbrighters from the Palestinian Territories, India, Pakistan, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the Dominican Republic, to name just a few. Seeing their passion for their causes, from empowering more women to study engineering to fighting human trafficking, was life-changing. It taught me that as young as we were, we had the power to be the voice of change for this world. Listening to their stories and learning about their culture broadened my perspective and gave me a different view of the reality of our world. That kind of exchange stays with you forever and drives you to do more – not just for yourself, but for those around you.