The computational power of the puff ball cactus

A highway and countryside in Santo Domingo, Mexico

This is part of Break Through Tech Chicago’s series of HOW columns, which tell how women in technology got where they are today and how we can increase the presence of women in technology tomorrow — in “her own words.”

Written By
Hilda Mendoza-Avila
  • Her Own Words (HOW) series

by Hilda Mendoza-Avila

My name is Hilda Mendoza-Avila, and I am a computer science undergraduate student at UIC. I grew up in a little village in Mexico, and I plan to pursue a PhD in computer science and learning sciences to provide computer science education to young women in developing regions of the world.

My journey started in a little village in the northern region of Mexico called Santo Domingo, where I for the first time began to dream about my future. I still remember granting myself permission to conceive a dream bigger than my little village could ever welcome through its ever hopeful and rusted gates. The beautiful puff-ball cactus wearing its armor made out of thorns and decorated with bright pink flower valor medals did not warn me that one day it would take a whole army of words to explain my dream to my family. And similarly, the sun caressing the green and yellow seas of plants hugging the endless herd of mountains did not pack extra sunlight rays for me to take with me when I moved to Chicago.

I originally dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher and of coming back to my little village to teach. However, such plans changed shortly after my whole life changed as well. My parents decided to move to Chicago so that my siblings and I could have better life opportunities and for them to be able to keep supporting our family financially. And just as my parents hoped, my siblings and I were introduced to a vast variety of careers and were also encouraged to find and follow our passion. This is an opportunity that not every child in Mexico gets. That is why I now dream of providing the same opportunities that I was offered to children in Mexico, so that they can conceive dreams big enough to splash their communities with hope, opportunities, and innovation.

I am a testament to the effect it would have on a young child to have the opportunity to find and follow their dreams and to design a life filled with freedom, success, and fulfillment. In the little village where I grew up, most young women terminate their education after graduating from middle school to shortly become housewives. The fact that I have the opportunity to have found my calling and to pursue it is truly remarkable. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how tremendously a young woman’s life can change given the opportunity to pursue a career that empowers her and allows her to empower other women as well.

In order for women in developing regions of the world to be free and self-reliant, they should have the opportunity to pursue a career in an area that allows them to feel fulfilled, to be successful, and to make an impact in the world. Specifically, STEM education can allow them to discover what their passion is. By exposing them to logical thinking and problem solving, we would strengthen their critical thinking and provide them with the education they need to become the innovators of tomorrow. It would be up to them to decide whether they would like to continue exploring the STEM field or to take the lessons learned and apply them to the area outside of STEM they would like to explore next. As everyone needs to do their part in making sure that young women have more opportunities so they can have freedom and self-reliance, I will dedicate my career to make sure that more women in developing regions of the world join us in our journey to make the world a better place, in our puff-ball cactus warrior uniforms.