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Super student from Shafter breaking barriers for Hispanic women in STEM

Mayra Reyes, 22, graduates from Taft College May 18, 2018. (Photo courtesy Mayra Reyes)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - This fall, Mayra Reyes is moving from the fields of Shafter to the fields of science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, but it wasn't simply academic achievement that got her there.

At age 17, Reyes and her family immigrated from Mexico to Shafter, and Reyes faced culture shock and a language barrier.

"It was hard because I didn't know any English. I didn't know how to write, how to speak English."

She picked it up rather quickly, and Reyes, now 22, recently graduated in the top of her class from Taft College with degrees in mathematics and engineering.

She now has a full ride to UC Berkeley's civil engineering program.

"Since my parents don't have the money to afford one of those expensive universities, I was scared that I was actually going to change my major because I wasn't going to be able to go away," Reyes said.

But Taft's faculty and staff took notice of Reyes's academic and extracurricular achievements, and pushed for her to apply for two highly competitive scholarships.

First came Berkeley's most prestigious scholarship, the Regents' and Chancellor's Scholarship, a merit-based award that provides financial support and other perks, like first pick of housing and classes.

And then came the full ride. The Stanley and Madalyn Hutchison scholarship, started by a Chevron engineer from Kern County, and awarded to Kern County students, veterans, and veterans families pursuing engineering at UC Berkeley,

I never thought that I would be doing what I'm doing right now," Reyes said.

She's entering a field dominated by men and lacking in racial diversity. Just about 2% of working engineers are Hispanic women, according to the National Science Foundation.

"I feel like that's changing because right now even more women are enrolling in the STEM field," Reyes said, noting that Taft has a sizable number of Hispanic women studying engineering. "They want to do more science and math, and I feel like it is growing, and it doesn't matter your gender of where you come from."

According to Sheri Horn-Bunk, executive director of the Taft College Foundation, Reyes isn't just statistically significant, she's extraordinary.

"She's hardworking, what you'd want any of your children to be like. Talk about perseverance and excellence," Horn-Bunk said.

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