When Boys & Girls Clubs of America was still a boys-only organization, Leticia didn’t let that stop her from attending her local Club with her big brother. Taking that risk led her to discover her lifelong passion.
I'm living proof that girls can be anything they want to be. Growing up, I never liked wearing dresses. For me, it was my small way of rebelling against stereotypes when people didn't view females as equal to males. And even though I came from a pretty traditional background, my parents always encouraged me to be myself — no matter what others thought.
As the youngest of three siblings, I looked up to my brother and loved doing everything he did — including going to the Boys Club of San Pedro. The only problem was that the Club was a boys-only organization back then. I didn't let that stop me.
Sometimes you have to make bold moves to get where you’re meant to go. I learned that early on when I started going to the Boys Club with my brother. I'll never forget the first time I snuck in. I wore a baseball cap, jeans and a T-shirt, so the other Club kids didn't realize I was a girl. But eventually, they caught on, and I remember them shouting to my brother, "That’s not your little brother. It's your little sister!" Even though I was asked to leave, I kept coming back — for years.
From age 7 to middle school, I attended the Boys Club of San Pedro and loved every minute of it. At the Club, we worked on a lot of building projects. From constructing go-karts (with me as the test driver) to woodworking to creating electronic boards and TV jammers, we were always tinkering with something.
I quickly took an interest in building things and showed all the Club kids and staff I could do anything the boys could — but better. With my brother by my side as my biggest fan, he rooted for me and told the boys to listen to my ideas. It wasn't long before I had Club kids following me around, asking for my help, my opinion, my ideas, and how I would execute a project. I like to think that I was one of the first girls in a Boys Club who made everyone see that girls deserved a seat at the table.
My Club experience exposed me to different projects involving building and electronics, and it helped foster my curiosity — allowing me to discover myself and my interests. My brother was going into mechanical engineering, and I remember sitting together designing glider airplanes. I enjoyed that, but I really loved when we'd experiment with breadboarding and resistors capacitors — now that was something I was passionate about.
For the first time, I was able to ask myself, "What do I enjoy doing?" Well, I enjoyed electrical engineering and being a leader among my peers. Those two interests have shaped the rest of my life, thanks to the Club.
As I entered college, I was advised to go into pre-med instead of engineering because it was a “male-dominated major.” However, two years into college, I was unhappy with pre-med. I remember waking up one morning and reminiscing on my time as a Club kid, building and designing, and I told myself, “I need to pursue electrical engineering.”
That day, I walked into the engineering department and was immediately told to go into civil engineering because there were more females. I refused to be talked out of my decision to pursue electrical engineering and ended up completing all my prerequisite courses and earning my spot — right alongside the male students. Fast forward two years later, and I earned my electrical engineering degree with an emphasis on power.
Today, there’s a minuscule percentage of women in the electrical engineering field, but if I can do it, so can you. I always encourage girls to pursue STEM fields and, no matter how many things they might have going against them, to remain steadfast in their dreams. To all the girls out there, remember that no one can stop you from achieving what you want.
As an engineer, I’ve worked in the aerospace and defense industry for more than two decades. Today, I’m the director of electronic warfare systems at a Fortune 500 Company where I oversee 42 engineers across the U.S. and U.S. territories.
That’s a long way from sneaking into the Boys Club, don’t you think? My advice to young girls today, in particular, is to stay focused, pursue math and join STEM and science clubs at school (or start one at your local Boys & Girls Club!). Get connected with a mentor and surround yourself with like-minded people so you can get to know the dynamic world of engineering. And remember, sometimes it just takes one bold decision to change the entire trajectory of your life — I know it did for mine.
Research shows that when girls have the right people to back them up, they can make bold moves and break down barriers to achieve anything they can dream. Programs at Boys & Girls Clubs help more girls like Leticia develop the confidence, courage and critical life skills necessary to change the world. In honor of International Day of the Girl, the Dove Self-Esteem Project is making a bold move — matching all donations made to Boys & Girls Clubs of America through Tuesday, October 11, 2022, up to $10,000. Your gift can help give more girls a great future.
As the largest providers of body confidence and self-esteem education in the world, our partners at the Dove Self-Esteem Project have reached 82 million young people across 150 countries to date with no cost, proven tools. Visit Dove.com/selfesteem to learn more about their mission to reach 250 million young lives by 2030 so that the next generation can realize their full potential without being held back by appearance anxiety.