Before discovering her passion for automotive sports, Alba Colon, lead engineer for Chevy Racing, realized at an early age that she wanted to study mechanical engineering. As one of the top women in her field, Colon has paved the way for other minorities to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers.
Colon has made it her passion to speak out for minorities and work toward giving them equal opportunities in the workforce. At the press conference prior to NASCAR’s 2016 Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard, she promoted General Motors and NASCAR’s diversity scholarship competition. Colon sat down with rolling out to discuss her experiences as a female engineer in NASCAR and promoting equal opportunities for people interested in STEM careers.
Do you have any advice for minority students looking to pursue a STEM career?
It might sound like a cliché, but seriously, education is key. Education is key to continue to progress and there are many ways that you can get an education, and that is the reason that the diversity scholarship is a big deal. The scholarship can help someone who doesn’t have all of the resources to do that. I also seriously believe in never giving up and working hard. Trust me, the first day I got here, it was not easy. You have to keep working hard. There were times that things didn’t work out and you just have to wake up the next day and keep going. So I know that sounds simple, but seriously, if you follow that I think that you can do it.
What challenges do you face as a woman in this industry? How have these challenges changed from when you first started until now?
I started out of college in 1994 and seriously those first races were a little bit challenging. I want to make [it] very clear that has changed a lot. They didn’t understand my English, they didn’t understand how a woman could be an engineer, and how an engineer could be a woman and Hispanic. It took having someone who trusts me, someone to take me under their wing. For example, Mr. Richard Childress was one of the first people to support me in this sport. Richard is the owner of Richard Childress Racing. He took me under his wing [and that] helped me a lot. There were a couple of drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt who [said], “I don’t know about this.” It made me mad, but the idea that I can’t do something also makes me want to show you what I can do. When you push me about something, I just keep going. One of the main things was hard work and to show that you were here because you earned your spot here. Now the guys will respect you; there are more women doing this kind of job, and several of the teams now have women engineers. People have noticed that this doesn’t have anything to do with sex anymore. If you are good at what you are doing, you can do it.
Were there any advantages you realized you had as a minority and as a woman?
Women have a lot of empathy that many men don’t have. They say that I listen a lot, that I am willing to listen to both sides to come up with a better conclusion. I tend to be very nurturing also. It is just the way that women are and the ways women respond to things are different to men, so I use that to my advantage.
What are some of the outcomes you’re looking forward to with General Motors and NASCAR’s diversity scholarship contest?
At the end of the day, I just want to bring more opportunity for under-represented groups to study STEM careers. We need to get more and more minorities into these careers. There are not too many engineers in the United States. And outside of this job, I recruit for General Motors, I recruit engineers and it’s hard to get really good ones. This is an opportunity to open doors and we have to do it, it is our job to do that.