“I thought I was “bad at math,” but I was naturally inclined to engineering.”  – Juanita

Juanita Garcia, a Project Exploration STEM Professional, and founder and CEO of BIM For Better takes a moment to share her experience with Project Exploration.  BIM For Better develops a platform for dynamic 3D model’s of buildings to be used throughout the lifecycle of buildings. She is an accredited professional in design construction, a green building expert and a founding member of the Center for Advancement of Women in Business at Webster University, Switzerland. Her background is in designing and building HVAC systems for mechanical construction contractors.

Juanita’s Path to a Life in STEM

Juanita is born and raised in Chicago and grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. She attended primary school there and discovered traditional academic environments did not support her learning style. A gifted student in grade school without the appropriate supports ended with Juanita having to retake a math class three times to pass it. In high school, she aspired to be an archaeologist, but it became apparent that as much as she enjoyed her an internship in archaeology that wasn’t going to be her career.

Juanita did not see herself exploring science or engineering because of her perceived challenge with math. However, through her internship, she was introduced to data analysis and developing spreadsheets. Her ability to tell a story using data boosted her confidence since she now saw math differently. Later she learned that she was naturally inclined to STEM after experiencing engineering on a field trip.

“You can’t be what you cannot see.”

Later, Juanita went on to study at American University and at Webster University in Leiden. That is where she became a founding member of the Center for the Advancement of Women in Business. It is a networking group bringing together leaders of NGO’s, embassy’s, governments, and global headquarters to share about themselves and create opportunities for all of the students and organizations to make those connections for future internships and jobs. Because it was a global campus, the diversity there was nothing like she ever experienced.

Juanita designed and built HVAC systems in 2002 and worked on a lead project in 2008.  Simultaneously she also pursued a massage therapy degree to learn the importance of a holistic view. In 2015, she was hired to work on a Navy project for multi-terms as a mechanical contractor. After she was hired she told them that she had 3D modeling classifications and how that could benefit their projects. She worked on that project and stayed for a while but quickly learned they weren’t interested in pursuing forward thinking skills, so she left realizing she needed to be challenged.

STEM Mentors Matter!

Juanita had a desire to help others learn and change diversity in STEM but knew undergrad, and high school age students are too late to reach. She realized middle school age is a critical time for students to become interested and engaged in STEM. Middle school is a particularly important time in general, with many students beginning to consider possible career options. The opinions they have about STEM subjects at this age will be taken through to further years, with previous experiences or perceptions dramatically impacting their future choices. Despite being such a key time, middle school teachers often have limited resources, with school protocol invariably dictating that other subjects take precedence over STEM.

At a holiday party for Environmentalist of Color, she met Syda Taylor previous Project Exploration Program Director. Juanita learned about Project Exploration’s middle school girls program, Sisters4Science and became instantly interested.

At the time she was trying to develop a STEM camp in Logan Square for a group of middle school students. She designed a week-long curriculum broadly covering green building and which also included robotics and forensic sciences.  Her program also included bringing in other STEM mentors to enhance learning. It was through this program that she realized diversity in STEM was a long game, and it was beginning here.

“I think I enjoyed my time that week as much or more than the girls!” – Juanita

Making Connections and Reflecting

An area that Juanita focused on during the week-long programs was connecting the principals in common with robotics, forensic sciences and green building. Part of the focus was on the body and structure. It got everyone moving and thinking about their bodies and anatomy, from his or her structure of bones, muscles, and tendons. Connecting that with robotics and forensics. It was great to tie all of those disciplines together.

Juanita realized working with middle school students was new for her. She spoke to peers often, but it her challenge was figuring out how to make it teachable for students without the experience. Other speakers mentioned their successes but never their failures, and it influenced her to talk about her struggles beginning with adversity and math. Since then, she came to realize that she wanted to make an impact on diversity in STEM. All these experiences influenced her to want to start her own company.

“If I can help and change the view of middle school students who else can I help along the way?”

Looking Ahead

In the future, Juanita is thinking about diversity in STEM and making an impact here in this industry. She realizes how much green building is not accessible and people don’t understand what makes a building green. Juanita has also been exploring, Science Riot, which uses comedy to communicate climate changes and green building. She also connected Project Exploration with the Illinois Green Alliance and their Greenbuild Legacy project. Because of that connection Project Exploration was awarded a grant to support our Science Giants program at Al Raby High School. Juanita recognizes the value of STEM mentors and would like to continue to help forge relationships between PE and more STEM professionals. STEM professionals working with students is valuable as well as exposing students to the variety of careers and opportunities beyond what they already know.

For more information about how to connect as a STEM Mentor/STEM Professional, contact Human Resources Coordinator, Surika Pillay, spillay@projectexploration.org

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