Although the female student population is the majority at California State University, Dominguez Hills—at approximately 70 percent—when Rosemary Diaz (Class of ’00, B.S., physics) was an undergraduate, she was the only female physics major at the university. When she entered graduate school at UCLA, she was sometimes the only woman in the class.
“It was a little nerve wracking not only because I was the only woman in the room, but also because I was one of the few Americans in the classroom and in the electrical engineering department,” Diaz recalls. “But over the last 11 years, I have seen the number of women in science steadily rising. In addition, there are also now a few female professors teaching electrical engineering at UCLA.”
Diaz went on to earn her master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering, with a concentration in photonics and optoelectronics, from UCLA, while at the same time beginning her career at JPL. After joining the company as a summer student hire in the optics section in 2000, she was kept on and worked part-time throughout graduate school and her doctorate. For the last 11 years, Diaz has worked on various projects, including the Space Interferometry Mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder, research and technology development, and most recently, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.
In her current position as an optical engineer, Diaz frequently works on optical testbeds, which are experimental optical layouts that are used to help design and develop new technologies for applications that will one day be used in space exploration. She also writes software for data acquisition and analysis, runs computer simulations of sensors that are used to measure relative positions of optics, and designs mechanical hardware that is used to hold custom optical assemblies.
Diaz says that she feels extremely fortunate to have been able to work on such exciting projects with great colleagues and the opportunity to always learn something new. Despite cutbacks to the nation’s space program, she feels that the value of developing the industry will always be realized.
“I remain hopeful about the future of space exploration; I believe that it is vitally important for us to continue to explore and learn about our universe because it benefits our future in many ways,” she says. “Many technologies that we rely on every day originate from the research and development that was used for space exploration.”
Diaz’s familial connection to CSU Dominguez Hills began with her father, Raymund Diaz (Class of ’75, B.S., business administration/accounting). Living in Carson at the time, she also wanted a campus that was easy to commute to from home. She soon found the small class sizes and ready access to her professors to be very beneficial.
“I really enjoyed my time at CSU Dominguez Hills; it was a good fit for me,” says Diaz. “The small class size made it easy to get to know my professors and classmates. We quickly organized our study groups, and always felt more than welcome to ask our professors questions. I also had the opportunity to get involved in the Science Society, and the technical crew in the theatre arts department.
Diaz’s brother and sister also graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills. Raymund Diaz, Jr. (Class of ’02, B.A., English/political science) studied criminal prosecution at Loyola Law School and is now a deputy district attorney in Orange County. Laura Diaz (Class of ’09, B.A., English/political science) recently earned her master’s degree at Loyola Marymount University and is a part-time adjunct professor in the English department at LMU.
Rosemary Diaz remembers that her parents, a stay-at-home mother and a facility contract manager at Boeing, taught their children to be inquisitive and wholeheartedly supported their efforts at learning, even in the course of everyday family life.
“My parents encouraged us while we were young by taking a great interest in our schoolwork,” she says. “My parents were great about buying educational toys for us. I remember when my parents bought me a microscope; I looked through it for hours.
“My parents wanted us to keep busy over the summer and enrolled us in different classes ranging from art and calligraphy, to math and science,” Diaz continues. “We had many opportunities to take things apart if something needed repair, and if we bought a new piece of furniture that required assembly, my dad would let us read the schematics, and we all worked together to assemble it.”
Diaz also credits her teachers at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance and Harbor College—where she took summer science classes while still in elementary school—with developing her love of the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. She encourages students at all levels to get involved in school programs that promote the sciences, including clubs, lectures and seminars, and research opportunities.
Diaz also had the opportunity to participate in physics professor Kenneth Ganezer’s research group for the international Super-Kamiokande neutrino physics study, and was able to visit its headquarters at the Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research in Hida, Japan. She says that access to a professional scientific experience while still an undergraduate was “exceptional.”
“The large scale of the experiment really impressed me, and I thought that a future in scientific research would be really exciting,” says Diaz. “Meeting and talking to the researchers was really inspiring too. I was able to talk to Dr. Ganezer and the other scientists about their experiences in graduate school and research, which was extremely helpful in deciding whether or not I wanted to pursue a graduate degree.
“It was a great opportunity for me to experience what it actually meant to be involved in research,” Diaz says. “It is really important for students to take advantage of these programs especially since many lessons cannot be learned in a classroom.”
A lot has changed since Diaz was the lone female in her physics and electrical engineering courses. She says that while attending NASA’s Women in Astronomy and Space Science conference two years ago, she met a number of astronomers, physicists, and engineers, and that one thing they all had in common was having had great mentors.
“One of the most important factors that affected my life was having [mentors],” she says. “I am eternally grateful to my two mentors throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, Dr. Ganezer at CSU Dominguez Hills, and Dr. Jia-Ming Liu, my UCLA advisor.
“I would love to see more young women taking an interest in science and engineering, and I hope that students continue to have access to research opportunities where they can be exposed to important topics in research, and learn about potential career paths early in their education.”