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​Sitcom and support groups inspire as Ohio State begins Women’s History Month

Patricia Valoy speaks to students and faculty opening Women's History Month

An 80s sitcom star inspired civil engineer Patricia Valoy to head to college and work her way into a male-dominated profession.

Valoy was the featured speaker as The Ohio State University kicked off Women’s History Month Wednesday in the Ohio Union. Valoy, a self-described Latina feminist and STEM activist, is also a writer and speaker who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic.

As a child growing up in New York, Valoy was inspired to become an engineer by her father, who was a car mechanic. She was also a fan of the sitcom Growing Pains and of the character played by Tracey Gold.

“The character Carol was very studious and wanted to go to Columbia and eventually she did,” Valoy said. “So I started saying I was going to study mechanical engineering at Columbia. Mind you I’m a poor girl, who’s a Latina, from the hood.”

Valoy said she relied on help from teachers, family and friends to help her get into Columbia University – which ranged from tutoring to writing letters of recommendation to making phone calls. Valoy said she could not have realized her dream without the support.

“I learned early on you need to build those relationships with people and you need to milk them,” she said.

Valoy works to encourage women and minorities to take up a career in STEM fields, despite the challenges she faced. She spoke of often being the only woman or person of color in her office and of getting passed over for promotions by men with similar experience.

Valoy said her blog helped her find others with similar stories, and noted that building common connections is a necessity.

“Community building is critical to who I am,” Valoy said. “I wouldn’t be anything without the community I came from and the many communities I’ve built since then.”

Gisell Jeter-Bennett, program coordinator for Ohio State’s Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color, agreed with the need to find support groups throughout a college and professional career.

“It’s building networks within the programs you’re in but also building networks outside your program,” Jeter-Bennett said. “So you have outside communities to help nurture you and mentor and guide you.”

Valoy’s discussion was coordinated by the Student Life Multicultural Center with support from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Ohio ADVANCE and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

The Student Life Multicultural Center has planned a series of programs this March to celebrate Women’s History Month. A schedule of events is posted on the Multicultural Center website