Patricia Lopez, an Española native, who has generated buzz from the time she was one of the first three women to earn a doctorate at New Mexico State University in 1989, is in the public eye again.
This time, however, Lopez is wearing a plaid, flannel shirt in an ad for Brawny paper towels.
Lopez, a platform applications engineer at Intel Corp., is being recognized by the paper towel company’s
“#StrengthHasNoGender” initiative, which aims to develop girls’ enthusiasm for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, by donating $75,000 to Girls Inc.’s as part of its Operation SMART programming. Lopez’s career in computer science has included seven imaging patents and more than 50 products,
“STEM is among many areas of society that are under-represented by females, and we felt this would be a powerful platform to address this issue,” Frances Morgan, senior brand manager at Georgia-Pacific, Brawny’s parent company, said in a press release. “Our partnership with Girls Inc., will help promote girls’ interest in these fields and empower them to break gender stereotypes.”
Lopez is being recognized alongside three other women — the first African American woman female combat pilot in the United States, an oral surgeon and clinical assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Penn Dental School, and the first place winner in the 2012 Google Science Fair who developed Cloud4Cancer, a breast cancer diagnosis test.
The ad campaign, which ran in the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, featured a woman on Brawny’s packaging in place of the famous “Brawny Man,” as well as a series of videos in which Lopez and the other women talk about their experiences as women in STEM fields.
Anna Umphress, the director of communications at Georgia-Pacific, said Lopez’s story came to light because of past media coverage of her efforts to get other women involved in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
“They are women most people have never heard of, and were not aware of, and so this reinforced, in a real, authentic matter, that there are women and girls in all parts of society that are accomplishing great things in these kinds of roles, but their stories haven’t been told,” Umphress said. “So it was an opportunity for Brawny to tell these stories so young women and girls see themselves in these roles.”
Lopez works to encourage young minority women to join the STEM field.
She is involved in mentoring young engineers and has various Board positions at New Mexico State University. She is on the University Foundation Board, the Dean’s Council for Excellence, the Computer Science Board and the Electronic and Computer Engineering Board.
She is a founding member of Latinas in Computing and she has also worked with The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and the National Center for Women in Information Technology.
Lopez also has a scholarship targeted at minority students from Northern New Mexico, who want to study electrical engineering and computer science at New Mexico State University — it’s called the Ross and Lydia Lopez Scholarship.
Lopez said she tries to do outreach wherever she is.
She currently lives in Colorado, where she taught an elective course at her childrens’ school and has hosted various workshops in which she uses textile objects like necklaces, scarves and dresses, that light up and change color.
It’s Lopez’s way of trying to bring the arts into STEM and trying to show girls that computer science isn’t as geeky as some may think.
Another thing Lopez tries to teach students is that a career in computer science isn’t just sitting in front of a computer and coding. She said, at least in her experience, coding is a collaborative experience which involves spending time in teams, to discuss features of various products.
She also works with Code.org for the website’s annual “Hour of Code,” which takes place during the second week of December and teaches students of all levels in more than 180 countries, a lesson in how to code.
“The work I do at the national level, hopefully creates impact on the local level,” she said.
Lopez has been working at Intel in Colorado for nine years, but has returned to Española to do career day presentations at Española Middle School and Española Valley High School.
She also worked with the Santa Fe Institute, to encourage middle school-aged girls to join STEM fields and was featured in a 2015-2016 New Mexico Women of STEM calendar sponsored by The Supercomputing Challenge.
Lopez acknowledged that New Mexico, being a rural state, has many communities that do not have the same level of access to computing as many bigger cities that have camps like “Girls Who Code” and “Black Girls Code,” to reach urban youth.
Lopez would like to see programs like 4-H, of which she was a member, growing up, or the Boys and Girls Club, partner with local colleges to bring hands-on computing experience to children.
She tries to give back to the area that has given so much to her.
She said growing up as a student in the Española School District and watching sports teams play schools from Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Taos, could feel like watching the haves and the have nots.
“If I had an easier life, or if I hadn’t had to earn everything that I had, I might not have gone as far as I did,” she said.
Lopez was the second-youngest of seven children, and was close in age to her three older brothers.
She said growing up, she tried to do everything they would do, which taught her to persevere and have confidence at a young age.
Carol, her older sister, said, “I recall she always, because we were all so much older, she always wanted to do what we were doing and we always pushed her away. She ended up working extra hard and proving she could do everything we did. She was always a striver, she always had a bigger goal than just the average person.”