Coatings engineer Laura Correa had much to celebrate when she received her diploma from Kettering University in Flint, Mich., in 2016.
With her cap and gown, she wore a special cord and honors medal to signify she was graduating cum laude both in her overall class and in her major of chemistry.
She also had a job lined up at Continental Structural Plastics, an Auburn Hills. Mich.-based auto supplier and composites specialist, where she did a two-year internship working under formulation chemists.
On top of the good grades and good job, Correa's graduation marked an important family milestone: She was the first person on her mother's side to earn a degree, she said in an email.
"I am a Latina woman, first in my family to graduate from college," Correa said. "I am breaking the mold, the stereotype that Latinas and women are incapable of working and producing good work."
Correa said her college experience at CSP was a career option eye-opener.
"I realized that plastics were so applicable to so many markets that are currently dominated by other materials," Correa said. "I am constantly surprised about all the different plastics and their properties and quirks."
She's particularly fascinated with combining and engineering materials.
"I believe composites are the future," Correa said, noting that the evolving technology reminds her of a quote attributed to the namesake of her alma mater, Charles Kettering. An inventor who held 196 patents and was the head of research for General Motors from 1920-47, Kettering once said: "My interest is in the future because I'm going to spend the rest of my life there."
New to the workforce, Correa is looking forward to the near future.
"I can say that a highlight of my career thus far is working with customers to support projects that I will one day see on the road," she said.
Correa's job involves a lot of testing, and the technical aspects of the work can be challenging.
"While I'm very good at understanding the theory behind what I do, I struggle in practice," she said. "I believe this is because I tend to be a perfectionist, but in experimental testing, little is perfect. In fact, most of the time, it is far from perfect."
Advice from her mother comes in handy.
"She told me to always learn. She said that could take many forms," Correa said. "It could be through education at a university, all the way to learning from a simple mistake."
Correa counts her mother and an aunt as mentors and Wonder Woman as her long-time favorite superhero.
"I look up to her because of how incredibly strong-willed she is, how independent she is, but most of all, how compassionate she is," Correa said of the comic and movie character. "She has the right balance of all of the attributes I find to be necessary in a person."
Correa has some distinguishing personal attributes, too, that she hopes inspire others, especially younger relatives.
"Since I'm the first in my family to graduate, I am helping my family excel and encouraging my nephew to excel as well," she said.
Correa also represents CSP and the field of science, technology, engineering and math in outreach programs with students.
"There is little that gives me more happiness than being able to encourage future generations to work hard and that there are no limits to success," she said.