This Eller Student Was Featured as a Life-Size Statue

March 2, 2022

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Beatris Mendez Gandica ’18 MS (MIS) never expected to have a statue created in her likeness—and that’s exactly what happened last year.

The Eller College of Management alumna, who works as a senior program manager at Microsoft, was selected as an American Association for the Advancement of Science IF/THEN Ambassador in 2019. The Ambassadors program highlights women working in STEM—specifically at companies like Google, IBM, Amazon and NASA, among others. All the women serve as role models for middle school girls by creating media content and directly connecting with girls in classrooms and other settings.

In 2021, the program culminated in the development of more than 120 3D printed statues in Dallas, Texas. This represents the most statues of women ever put together in one location at once.

“It is very humbling to be part of the group,” says Mendez Gandica, who is proud to be one of the Latinas in the cohort. “It’s still sinking in.”

The inspiration behind the IF/THEN exhibit came from a 2016 study by Rosie Rios, the former Treasurer of the United States. She researched the status in the 10 largest U.S. cities by population, plus Washington, D.C., and her hometown of San Francisco. Rios found that there were less than six statues of women in all 12 cities. This, combined with the lack of women representation in STEM, prompted the exhibit.

The orange statues were on display through October, and naturally Mendez Gandica went to Dallas to see hers. Before arriving, she received a LinkedIn message from the mother of a fourth-grade girl who lived in the area saying that her daughter loved the statue of Mendez Gandica and wanted to be just like her.

“This melted my heart,” says Mendez Gandica, who decided to visit the girl’s school. In addition to speaking in front of 100 fourth- through sixth-graders, she taught a coding workshop to 30 students.

Mendez Gandica has a strong background in bringing science and technology to youth. In 2018, she launched Nuevo Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is inspiring kids to be curious, confident and courageous by discovering the world of STEM.

“We work with Title I schools, where we can provide access to STEM education to those students who might not have a role model or STEM classes at their location,” says Mendez Gandica. Through teaching coding workshops and coordinating guest speaker sessions, Nuevo Foundation has worked with more than 10,000 students in 32 countries.

For Mendez Gandica, it’s important to teach kids that coding is even a possibility. Growing up in Venezuela, she didn’t take her first coding class until her first year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

“We want to make sure everyone has a chance regardless of color, gender or economic status,” she says.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, she began working at Microsoft and eventually applied to Eller. She appreciated the convenience of the MISonline program, and obtaining her master’s gave her more insight into the types of jobs that can be done in security.

When reflecting on all she’s accomplished, Mendez Gandica doesn’t take her experience with the IF/THEN exhibit lightly. She received a mini version of her statue that she keeps on her desk to remind her of how the honor comes with great responsibility.

But being featured as a statue is just one piece of the puzzle. Even if she hadn’t received such a distinction, she “would still pursue the mission with the equal passion and desire to empower kids to explore STEM opportunities,” she says.