March 06, 2023
Paying It Forward
A scholarship changed Lauren Gonzalez’s life, and she’s giving back to ensure the same for others
By Susan Endres
Alumna Lauren (Milisits) Gonzalez still remembers getting the letter in the mail that meant she could attend Carnegie Mellon University.
It wasn’t her acceptance letter; that had already arrived.
It was a scholarship award notice.
With it, combined with federal grants, she could afford to accept her CMU admission.
“I remember telling my mom once, ‘I hope one day I’m able to give back as much as I got in scholarships, so that somebody else could do the same,’ sort of as a pay-it-forward gesture,” says Lauren who graduated from the College of Engineering in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and the School of Computer Science in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
She recently set up an endowed scholarship for the Department of Mechanical Engineering to do just that with the help of her employer’s match program. By endowing the scholarship, Lauren ensured it will partially support at least one engineering student each year in perpetuity.
“If I’m able to make what I do go further, then I might as well,” she says, noting that many companies match their employees’ charitable donations — doubling their impact — like Shell does for her.
“I remember telling my mom once, ‘I hope one day I’m able to give back as much as I got in scholarships, so that somebody else could do the same,’ sort of as a pay-it-forward gesture.”
Women in Engineering
Lauren hopes the scholarship will encourage undergraduate students to pursue engineering, particularly women, given their persistent underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Growing up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill with parents who encouraged her interest in STEM, Lauren says she didn’t realize there was a gender imbalance in STEM until college. Over the years, her parents had enrolled her in as many university outreach programs as they could.
“It was through all of those free programs that kept my interest in science and engineering,” she says. “And I never once doubted that I could do it.”
“So then, when I actually was going to school, that’s where I started to hear the stereotypes of, ‘Oh, you’re a woman. Are you sure you’re going into engineering?’ or ‘Oh, you’re in CS? You don’t look like a CS major.’”
Those responses irritated her, driving her to help more women get into STEM.
“I worked my butt off in school. And knowing how difficult that can be, it helps to build up the mindset that when something’s not easy, you don’t just quit right away and give up. (If we did), we wouldn’t be tackling big problems, and we wouldn’t be changing things if as soon as you hit a roadblock, you quit.”
Tackling Big Problems
After graduation, Lauren moved to Texas where she worked as a test automation engineer at a startup and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to earn her master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
As a graduate student, she briefly interned for Shell. The company then offered her a full-time position, leading to an opportunity to work offshore on one of the company’s largest floating platforms, Appomattox, in the Gulf of Mexico. She continued to climb, becoming a project manager and, now, a business advisor to the vice president of information and digital engineering in Houston.
COVID-19 added challenges and barriers, but Lauren says she’s proud of herself and her team’s resilience throughout the pandemic. They delivered a multimillion-dollar project on time, on budget and on target “from our pajamas at home,” she jokes.
And she delivered a baby in the middle of it, too.
Her experience in the Department of Mechanical Engineering helped equip her for such challenges by exposing her to different people, projects and work ethics. At CMU, she found that she likes “big problems that challenge the world, that have major impact.”
“I worked my butt off in school,” Lauren says. “And knowing how difficult that can be, it helps to build up the mindset that when something’s not easy, you don’t just quit right away and give up. (If we did), we wouldn’t be tackling big problems, and we wouldn’t be changing things if as soon as you hit a roadblock, you quit.”
The College of Engineering also provided some of her favorite memories while at CMU — trips to Peru and China with educational and industry components. These were opportunities she never would have had if not for scholarships.
Education changed her life and motivates her philanthropy, and Lauren encourages other alumni to consider how they can change someone’s life, even with small donations.
“Every thousand dollars, every hundred dollars I got towards the scholarship completely changed my path.”