Romanna Flores Shares How The Program Uses Music To Teach Latinx Students About STEAM

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Romanna Flores is an IT Systems Analyst at Intel and as of this summer the cofounder of Mariachi STEAM, a summer program for young Latinx musicians that is dedicated to connecting the dots between science, technology, engineering, mathematics and music. 

“I like to say that I did not choose this career but that this career chose me,” shares Flores. “Every industry that I entered started with a creative focus and then evolved to a more technical position allowing me to create innovative, digital interactions. My willingness to learn and experiment with emerging technologies was embraced by application teams who welcomed a different perspective to problem-solving.” 

With Mariachi STEAM, Flores and her cofounder Richard Flores are hoping to cultivate the same encouraging, informative environment for Latinx students.

“Richard Flores and I both witnessed lack-of-representation in the summer programs that we were exposed to as parents and volunteers,” explains Flores. “We saw organizations trying to bring equity into their program but were struggling. The more that we talked, it really came down to the experience we wanted Latinx students to have, and then the concept for Mariachi STEAM started to evolve at a fast pace. We talked about incorporating hands-on STEAM activities into the program, but it was broader than that. We wanted to ensure that we were introducing students to organizations (like SHPE and 4-H) that would guide them on their journey. I had mentors in school that kept encouraging me to explore the arts, which is my passion. Their chorus message: there was a place for me – and that is the message I want to pass on to students.” 

Flores’ own work and guiding principles at Intel have encouraged her to continue to cultivate Mariachi STEAM’s growth. 

“Intel has a deep-rooted commitment to diversity and inclusion,” shares Flores. “Diverse teams with diverse perspectives are more creative and innovative – programs like Mariachi STEAM promote new thinking from an early age, encouraging students to pursue STEAM careers later in their life (and maybe one day work at Intel!). In addition, Intel has culture of volunteerism where we are encouraged to use our expertise, skills, and time to help meet community needs. Mariachi STEAM would not exist without dedicated staff and volunteers.” 

Below Flores shares how exactly Mariachi STEAM cultivates a connection and love to STEAM for its students, how she got her own start in her career, and what she hopes the growth path for Mariachi STEAM will encourage. 

Vivian Nunez: How did you get your foot in the door?  

Romanna Flores: To this day, I still can’t believe that I am working at Intel. I remember the exact day and time that I received a call from an Intel recruiter. The offer was for a UX position but also required experience with software development and quality assurance testing. I have an eclectic collection of skills including being creative, analytical, problem-solving, and persistent, and IT was a perfect match. 

Nunez: What advice do you have for Latinas who are looking to pursue a STEAM career? 

Flores: My biggest advice is to not feel like you have to compromise or suppress a strong skill or a gift that comes naturally in order to enter a technical field. For me, my creative skills eventually were utilized for a technology that had not been created yet. We are constantly forecasting on what future skills our industry is going to need to compete.   

Nunez: How are you making the connection between STEAM and Mariachi? 

Flores: Middle and high school students are already “experiencing” math and science when they play their instrument without even realizing it. We are emphasizing those mathematical and scientific connections in a familiar musical setting until those concepts become grounded. For example, students convert notes from their favorite Mariachi song to frequencies and prototype a digital music player using an Arduino 101 development board.

Nunez: What is your hope for Mariachi STEAM and those who participate in the program? 

Flores: My hope for students that participate in the program is that students realize they can utilize and leverage their creativity into any academic or professional field of interest. What may start as a “surprising” connection can ignite their inherent curiosity, giving them the motivation and confidence to explore STEAM concepts further. By engaging with the students’ affinity for music, we hope to motivate and catalyze curiosity in science and technology. The beauty of the program is that students are able to meet college students who are studying STEAM fields and technical professionals who still have music as an integral part of their lives. 

Nunez: How has your own Latinidad influenced the trajectory of your career? 

Flores: When I think about my familia, I think about their values, strong work ethic, resilience, and compassion. Whatever academic or career challenges I have faced are no comparison to the challenges my grandparents faced. Growing up, I was always in awe of how my abuelo (grandfather) could fix anything, he had a knack for anything mechanical. Without a formal education and knowing very little English, he started working in the fields and went on to become a welder at a General Motors foundry for 28 years. He would always be that person who helped a compadre (friend) when in need. It’s my second nature to want to be of service, helping a peer, business partner, or a student who is trying to figure out how to navigate a complex academic system.

I’ve also had the opportunity to connect with leaders, mentors and peers through our Intel Latinx Network employee resource group. Prior to serving as the co-president of the Oregon chapter this year, I was actively involved in the community outreach committee. Having the opportunity to engage with several employee resource groups has expanded my network and provided broader access to new ideas and perspectives.

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