A first generation college graduate, Samantha Sanchez is a cultural anthropologist from the University of California San Diego and our SOLIDWORKS Women in Engineering recipient for July 2016. When I began researching Samantha for our interview, the first question that popped into my mind was, ‘What is cultural anthropology, and how does a cultural anthropologist become involved with engineering and teaching SOLIDWORKS?’ Samantha initially began schooling as an environmental engineer, but soon realized that it wasn’t quite what she thought it was. She meandered through a few other specialties, like mechanical engineering and urban studies and planning, before settling on cultural anthropology. “I didn’t have anyone telling me, ‘here’s how you explore these different subjects, here’s how you decide what you’re interested in, you have to stick something, and how it will affect your career after graduation – advice like that.’ I didn’t really understand it. I just bounced all around, and ended up with cultural anthropology. By the time I was about to graduate, I realized I was really interested in engineering and design all along.”
So what would you do? Many would’ve stuck to what they’d trained for, wishing for a while, and forgetting eventually that passion existed at all. Not Samantha. She went to work and started taking some community college courses focused around CAD and 3D printing. “I was really interested in 3D printing, and I wanted to do some type of CAD. I didn’t even know what SOLIDWORKS was at that point in time. The CAD class they offered at my local community college was MasterCAM, so I took that. I was learning all these new things and loving the world of manufacturing. I’ve always been interested in how things are made; when I was younger, it took form in crafts and skills like learning how to sew. As I started taking these classes surrounding manufacturing, I realized it’s the same thing! It’s along the same line of interest, but it’s not a line of interest that you’re directed to as a teenaged girl. As a teenaged girl, if you’re interested in making things and designing things, they might say, ‘You like art? Why not design clothes?’ That might work for some, but for me, there was no one around who said ‘you could build a robot.’ Without the knowledge of what was possible, it took me a little longer to get there. From that MasterCAM class, I started exploring more CAD opportunities, and that’s how I started my internship at SolidProfessor. I’ve been working here since.”
While at SolidProfessor, Samantha has done extensive on the job training, acquiring her Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional Certification (CSWP), and on her way to her Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE). “I love what I do here. For example, I’ve worked on the library updates for the SolidProfessor SOLIDWORKS content. When the new SOLIDWORKS version is released each year, I really enjoy going through the help file. I love helping to translate the help files for people in a context that makes the material easier for them to understand, and I do my best to bring to life all aspects of the newest functionality. For me personally, my education has had many highs and lows. One of the things I realized through my schooling is there is nothing out there anyone can’t learn; it’s more likely that the method of learning isn’t right for what they’re attempting. Most people can learn anything, it’s simply a matter of how the information is presented to them.”
Playing the Ukulele
When I asked Samantha what her hobbies were and if they incorporated her SOLIDWORKS skills, I thought I was asking a simple question. Instead, I learned that she will stop at nothing to pursue a passion. Samantha recently found out that she has a connective tissue disorder that makes her joints hyperflexible. Many people suffer a lot with this disorder, especially in their finger joints. Because their finger joints are too flexible, they actually bend backward, so their dexterity is not as good as someone with normal connective tissue. In her everyday life, Samantha’s condition is rarely limiting, but it did present an obstacle when she decided she wanted to learn to play the Ukulele. She quickly discovered ring splints that might work for her situation, but the metal versions are extremely expensive, to the point that most people have to use their medical insurance to cover them. “As soon as I read about the ring splints, I thought ‘oh, man, I could actually learn to play the ukulele now!’ I’ve been working on different prototypes, and so far the samples I’ve printed seem to work pretty well. Next, I’ll be changing up my print material as part of testing for the next series of samples. When I get them to a place I’m confident they’ll work for most, I’m going to begin ensuring configuration options to fit well on any sized finger. Ultimately, I would love to come up with a table on a website where people like me could plug in their finger joint measurements and generate the necessary files to 3D print their ring splint. I’ve met a lot of people recently who have the same issues, and to offer a more affordable method like this to grant them stabilization in their hands would really help them out. It’s definitely something I’m working on.”
As always, thanks for reading! It was my pleasure to introduce you to Samantha – and I’ll be on the lookout for her finger splints to get you an update when she has one. If you or someone you know would like to nominate an inspiring woman in the field of engineering, please nominate them and help us share their story!