Inside the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program at Southwestern College, Giselle Romo is spending a summer afternoon browsing files and renderings on her laptop of all the different things she can make with one of the program’s 3D printers. There’s a Stormtrooper figure, an elastic bracelet, a ring and small scales of famous skyscrapers.
“They’re endless possibilities,” Romo said. “That’s really what 3D printing has shown me. If you can think it, you can make it.”
After browsing through more files, she finally decides on a small gray geometric shark named “Mr. Jaws.”
At first Mr. Jaws is just a rendering on her computer, but Romo can see past her computer screen’s pixels to what will become a real object she can hold in her hand after she runs Mr. Jaws’ file through a MakerBot 3D printer. First, she examines the rendering on her laptop, rotating it and checking its size, before she transfers the file to the 3D printer. Mr. Jaws will take approximately 26 minutes to go from rendering to object after Romo heats up the 3D printer to 180 degrees Celsius.
At first, the 3D printer doesn’t feel much different than a regular office printer. It sounds the same, it looks like a black box and it moves line by line. But instead of releasing ink to blank, white paper, the 3D printer heats up and melts a filament onto the printer bed and layer by layer starts creating the object.
“I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so I’ve been trying to print as many Star Wars objects as possible,” Romo said. “You can combine this with electronics or computer science, and next thing you know you’ve built a robot. The vast variety of what it can be used for is amazing.”
Romo, an engineering major, is just getting started with 3D printing but is already wondering about how she can parlay it into her dream of working in the aerospace industry. On her cellphone, she pulls examples of ways astronauts and space companies are trying to use 3D printing to build rockets and satellites.
“I never had access to technology this advanced, ever,” Romo said. “The fact that Southwestern College has it right now, it’s providing an opportunity to all the students, and it provided that opportunity to me.”
When Romo isn’t creating 3D objects, she’s creating relationships and connections as president of the newly revived Society of Women Engineers club at Southwestern College. Romo re-created the club, which is open to any gender, to work together on projects, like 3D printing, and help promote women and other minorities in male-dominated STEM fields.
“I noticed that almost every person I looked up to in the STEM field was a man,” Romo said. “There’s something very encouraging about seeing someone like you in a position you want to be in. I knew that if I felt that way, other women in engineering probably feel that way. I wanted to create a group of support where anyone who wants to be an engineer or a mathematician or a scientist can come here and say, ‘I can do whether I’m a woman or not.'”
Around campus, students may have seen the Society of Women Engineers on Jaguar Walk during a recent club fair showing off their 3D printed objects or at one of their Star Wars screenings to celebrate May the Fourth. Moving forward, Romo wants to expand the Society of Women Engineers club to establish mentorships with members of the local professional chapter, go on local tech company tours and develop more hands-on workshops.
While Romo’s heroes Dana Newman and Ellen Ochoa have taught her to literally reach for the stars, it’s her mentors here at Southwestern College, like Raul Soto, Philip Diwa and Veronica Guaracha, who have shown her the way there.
“All the encouragement I’ve had from them, that’s what’s kept me going,” she said.
Romo, admittedly, wanted to go straight to a university from high school, but she struggled to finish all her units due to being sick and visits the emergency room, so she tested out of high school. Her perspective of Southwestern College changed when she found dedicated mentors and found herself around other students with similar ambitions and goals through the Society of Women Engineer and the Math and Science Club.
“It’s not your second choice, it’s your second chance,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through, what you’ve done or what happened to you, this place can give you an opportunity.”