“I feel like with anything I do, I want to make an impact.”
These are the words of Meremezi “Mezi” Iroaga, a junior computer science student at San Diego State University. But she also is a dancer, an officer of a campus ministry organization Alpha Omega, an active member of the Afrikan Student Union and the Artificial Intelligence club, and vice president of SDSU’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Iroaga has inspired others through her involvement in various extracurricular activities, but organizing events for Black female engineers as part of the Women in NSBE (WiNSBE) group has been particularly impactful.
Originally from the Bay Area, Iroaga often heard about NSBE from classmates and joined the online directory. After joining SDSU and attending a NSBE club meeting in-person, Iroaga felt not only inspired but encouraged to grow the population of women in the club.
After attending the national NSBE convention in Los Angeles last year as SDSU’s only female representative, she was encouraged by the SDSU NSBE board to run for vice president of the chapter and to lead a new subgroup,WiNSBE, dedicated to supporting and inspiring Black women in engineering and computer science fields.
“My hope is for this program to make an impact by raising up great Black women leaders and contributing to the empowerment of all women, especially women of color, in engineering,” said Iroaga in a fall 2022 release introducing the program.
In October, she hosted her first WiNSBE event: a professional panel and night of networking. Black female engineers working at San Diego companies shared their stories with SDSU students. Attendees told Iroaga the event was incredibly helpful but what she didn’t expect was for the panelists to express how grateful they were to meet other Black women in their industry.
Black women comprise only 1.6% of scientists and engineers working in the U.S., according to the National Science Foundation.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Black woman in computer science,” Iroaga said. “Sometimes I feel like I have to live up to an expectation and that if I drop out, there’s no one left.”
Through WiNSBE, Iroaga is dedicated to continuing to bring support and community to Black women in STEM at SDSU. “I’m working on organizing company tours right now to get our students off campus into the real world and the industry,” said Iroaga of plans for the spring semester.
Finding a community of social computer science peers through Discord and mentoring others also encourages Iroaga to persist. Her two younger sisters ask for her help in math and are interested in following in her footsteps in STEM. She also enjoys tutoring other Black students in the clubs she’s involved in.
“Growing up, I didn’t feel like I had that role model,” Iroaga said, “so being that role model for others now is super cool.”
Originally published on SDSU NewsCenter by Melinda Sevilla and Sarah White