Diana Citlali Avila Padilla, an undergraduate student from Mexico completed the Aspire Leaders Program (ALP) and won a Community Action Award in 2022. Living in Merida, Mexico, the capital of the Yucatán, she recalls her journey and hopes to support other women in STEAM.
Padilla enjoys learning in all parts of her life. You can find her watching documentaries and learning languages when not pursuing her studies, entrepreneurial ventures, or research internships.
She credits outreach efforts from other organizations when she was younger as the catalyst to becoming a lifelong learner and university student.
It was Science Clubs International – a global partner of Aspire Institute – that introduced Padilla to the Aspire Leaders Program.
“When I started learning more from these outreach initiatives, it was the first time I felt like I could really do something – make a contribution and help other people,” she said. “It helped me realize what I could do.”
Applying to the Aspire Leaders Program (previously Crossroads Emerging Leaders Program) in 2021, she honed her skills and completed the required courses but wasn’t selected for the final stage until she tried again in 2022.
“I was particularly looking for the opportunity to develop my own passion project, SisterSTEAM, and to learn leadership skills,” she said.
When she made it to the final stage in 2022, she was also completing an internship at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.
Eager to explore the Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) and the Community Action Award (CAA), Padilla persevered despite her busy schedule.
“It was another one of the tools that the program could give me that I knew would be good for my career, and that’s why I applied. But it was a complicated journey!”
After pitching her idea for her project, SisterSTEAM, she was among the ten Aspire Leaders Program alumni to receive funding from the CAA. Backed by an NGO she founded with her sister in 2018, Quiu, this initiative focuses on creating a sorority of women.
“We are sisters in STEAM and we are a sister’s team,” Padilla described.
The Evolution of SisterSTEAM
Other programs at Quiu convened STEAM researchers and specialists from across the Yucatán together with middle and high school kids.
“We realized the needs and challenges of young aspiring female scientists – we realized they were at risk of stopping their education,” she explained about her work with young women at Quiu and the inspiration for SisterSTEAM.
One of her main goals behind SisterSTEAM is to normalize the difficulties of the first-generation college student experience and create resources and support for other young scientists as they navigate this journey. She wants to scale eventually by providing online programs for those outside Mexico.
“I was inspired to create SisterSTEAM, because I believe that things will be different for girls suffering socio-economically and personally but having a community, a support system to help them through, is something I didn’t have but I wish I did,” she said. “It’s really about protecting their overall wellbeing.”
When asked why she chose STEAM (not STEM), she explained the importance of science, art, and being a well-rounded person.
“[Scientific knowledge] isn’t all that you need in life,” Padilla said. “You need soft skills, communication skills, [and] you need to talk with people and get them excited about your ideas.”
Since completing the Aspire Leaders Program, Padilla has continued her studies at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. This summer, she will complete another research internship, this time at the California Institute of Technology.
When asked what advice she would give to future Aspire Leaders, Padilla emphasized persistence.
“Apply as soon as you can and as many times as you need. Prepare for each stage, do the work but don’t over think it. Time management will help!”