Discover how associate professor Maria Mayorga uses a life-long love of math and science to improve people’s lives and encourage young female engineers to do the same
In middle school, it is not uncommon to find a student or two who will proudly proclaim math or science as their favorite subjects. You would be hard pressed, however, to find one who not only enjoyed the subjects but could grasp advanced, college-level concepts.
Associate professor of personalized medicine, Dr. Maria Mayorga, was that exception. She always loved math and science—and she was good at it.
“I was always a bit of a geek,” she laughed.
As a high school student, she commuted into Washington, DC, from her home in Arlington, Virginia, by metro and took classes at George Washington University as part of a program designed to prepare talented Hispanic science and engineering students achieve academic and personal success. There, she studied subjects like vector math and statistics and attended leadership and networking opportunities with other students.
“Attending such a rigorous educational and leadership development summer program gave me great confidence in my knowledge of the material, I knew I could make a career out of my interests,” she said.
After spending many summers on the George Washington campus it felt like a second home, so Dr. Mayorga enrolled at the University and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2000.
It wasn’t until she was preparing for graduation that Dr. Mayorga considered going on to earn her Master’s degree at the urging of a trusted advisor. “My program director has always been a mentor to me, and he planted the seed in my mind about an advanced degree,” she said.
In the end, Dr. Mayorga moved to the west coast to attend University of California at Berkeley, where she earned her Master’s in industrial engineering and operations research (2002) as well as her Ph.D. (2006). “Looking at the course listings, I realized that every class I found interesting was in the IEOR department, so I wanted to learn more and pursue my career in that path,” she remembered.
Armed with her Ph.D., Dr. Mayorga considered what to do next and ended up at Clemson. “I wanted to be part of an industrial engineering program that fostered a collegial working environment and was very clear about expectations as a teaching and research institution.”
Dr. Mayorga focused her work in health systems at Clemson, but without a medical school, she found herself longing for greater access to like-minded researchers and students. It was around the same time that a friend and colleague, ISE’s Dr. Julie Ivy, reached out to her about a position at NC State and encouraged her to apply.
“I had been to Raleigh for a seminar and loved the city, and I had heard about the personalized medicine cluster and really liked it. In fact, I was already collaborating with researchers at nearby UNC in my work” she remembered. “Beyond that, I considered my husband and two young children and determined that moving to Raleigh would benefit us all—we were enthusiastic about raising our family here. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea!”
Dr. Mayorga joined the ISE program in August 2013 as a Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program cluster hire in Personalized Medicine. Her research is focused on predictive modeling in health and economic outcomes. She is also interested in optimally allocating resources in Emergency Medical Service systems, such as ambulances and recovery supplies in disaster situations.
Beyond her impressive accomplishments, Dr. Mayorga strives to connect with young women interested in STEM and encourage them to pursue careers in engineering.
“Female engineers deserve the same opportunities as their male colleagues and should be treated as such,” she continued. “I have found that when considering what to do after graduation, female PhD’s are more hesitant to pursue faculty positions than men, for fear that it will be too complicated to balance work and the rest of their goals and expectations. I strive to create an environment where female students feel comfortable voicing their concerns and can be coached by someone who fully understands and appreciates them on a personal level. At the end of the day, I want every female engineering student to know that, if this is what you want, then it’s totally worth it.”