Other than themselves, identical twins Vanessa and Victoria Liera aren’t used to seeing people who look like them in their electrical engineering courses.
“I've had experiences where I was the only girl in my lab, and I'm like: OK, this is great. It would be nice, though, if there was a woman in my class,” Victoria Liera said. “So, yeah, we just hope to hopefully empower women to just continue — and like don't be afraid to go forward and take on these like male-dominated fields.”
The Liera twins — both seniors majoring in electrical engineering — are this month’s guests on Face to Face With Chancellor May.
They said they landed on the same major after taking a robotics class in middle school and developing a love for math and science in high school. They said studying the same subject created a natural support system.
“I think having each other in the same classes has helped us through challenging times,” Vanessa Liera said.
Now they’re working to create a support system for other students. They created the Club of Future Female Electrical Engineers, or COFFEE, to provide mentorship, study hours and other efforts to build community and increase retention among women in their field.
“So that's our goal: Basically, a support system for women in the major to keep going despite any challenges,” Vanessa Liera said. “We're there to create a community — be there for everyone, in academics but also as a friend.”
Chancellor Gary S. May, himself an electrical engineer and expert in the computer-aided manufacturing of integrated circuits, said the Liera twins’ story was similar to his own. He said helping more people to join the ranks of engineering has been rewarding for him.
“When I was [an undergrad], there weren't many African American students … in the class, or in the lab, or anywhere else,” May said. “I set out to try to recruit and empower other students like myself into engineering. And I just get a positive fulfillment — a sense of positive energy — when another student becomes an engineer, successfully graduates [and] gets a career off the ground.”
He also validated their concerns about having imposter syndrome, saying he sometimes too dealt with it.
During this episode’s section of rapid-fire “Hot Seat” questions, May took a moment to quiz the Lieras on some of the basics of electrical engineering, saying that they were ready to graduate because they answered his question correctly — and in unison.
“You can tell my professors,” Victoria Liera said with a laugh.
The full video, with more information about the twins’ backgrounds and experiences at UC Davis, plus May’s advice for people from underrepresented groups trying to break into fields like engineering, is available above.
Also available are the previous six episodes of Face to Face, featuring:
- Akshita Gandra, a senior majoring in cognitive science who founded The Revival Zine, an online publication focused on giving a voice to college students from around the country writing about feminism and social justice.
- Theanne Griffith, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, School of Medicine, who is also a children’s book author.
- Jennifer Gross, the head coach of the women’s basketball team.
- Richard Michelmore, director of the UC Davis Genome Center of the architect of the university’s rapid on-campus COVID-19 testing.
- Mahiri Moore Jr., a student with his own nonprofit organization focused on engaging Black and Latinx youths.
- Santana Diaz, the executive chef for UC Davis Health who has pushed the hospital to focus on high-quality, local ingredients.
Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.