An entrepreneur, designer, and engineer, Sonia is passionate about the application of human-centered design (HCD) and technology to improve quality of life. While in college, Sonia founded Rice University’s Design for America studio, a student organization focused on creating local impact using HCD. She also designed and engineered personalized prosthetics in partnership with Hanger Prosthetics, as well as medical devices for pediatric patients with manual dexterity issues in collaboration with Shriners Hospital.
Sonia began her career as a strategy consultant at Accenture, delivering innovative solutions in healthcare. During this time, she also founded a non-profit supporting young professionals with mental health disorders. Most recently, Sonia graduated from Stanford University’s d.school, obtaining her master’s degree in Engineering Design Impact. Sonia has been coaching and mentoring students for over 10 years. She now works in San Francisco as the Director of Member Experience at Brightline, a digitally-enabled pediatric behavioral health startup.
1) Why did you become a coach with The Spike Lab?
I’m passionate about helping students unlock their creative confidence to generate impact and innovation. I feel our current education system falls short when it comes to enabling students to think both independently and creatively. We all have the potential to be purpose-driven innovators, yet all too often we spend years without even knowing it. The Spike Lab is an incredible community of like-minded coaches who are fearless in their pursuit of passion and purpose and are driven by helping students realize their true potential. I’m eager to work alongside these folks as a coach, collaborator, and friend, and am even more excited to work with students who are determined and ready to embark on this new path of self-discovery for themselves. I know firsthand that it’s a life-changing journey.
2) What is your proudest professional achievement?
Soon after I graduated college and started working, my brother was diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. As I became a caregiver and advocate for his care, I realized how little support and community there was available for young adults battling mental health issues. Saddened and disappointed by this, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I started a non-profit organization, By the Future for the Future, focused on building community, purpose, and resilience for young people dealing with mental health issues in Texas. I worked to partner with local organizations and mental and behavioral health centers and clinics to educate, empower and host events that allowed members to be truly authentic and vulnerable. Eventually, my work was noticed by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and we were able to partner to grow and scale the non-profit while leveraging their network and resources. I was proud of the people we were able to bring together and the impact it generated on their sense of self and belonging. It was a very empowering experience to transform anger and frustration into positive impact and support.
3) If you could give one piece of advice to your high school self, what would it be?
Dream bigger! I grew up in a traditional Hispanic family without many examples of women in the workforce. I definitely didn’t know then that I could go for careers where I mostly saw men, such as engineering or medicine. But it was something that intrigued me since middle school, and I felt drawn to pursue it. I left my district high school where all of my friends were (so scary!) in pursuit of my interests, and went to a magnet school focused on science and engineering. It was all so challenging – having to make new friends, learn totally new subjects, take risks daily. However, this opportunity prepared me and gave me the foundation I needed to apply to the engineering schools at universities, and ultimately graduate with this profession. I had to make trade-offs to pursue this career, but ultimately it felt so validating. I came out the other side so proud of myself for doing it and making the dream a reality. Just because no one around you has accomplished what you dream of, don’t be discouraged! Where there is a will, there is a way and the sky is the limit!
4) How did you choose Rice for undergrad?
In high school, I attended the Science Academy, a magnet school in South Texas. Each year, they offer a summer program for students in their junior year in partnership with Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB). I had taken a course on biotechnology and really enjoyed applying the principles of engineering and problem solving toward biological systems (especially humans) so I decided to apply for the program. I was lucky enough to be one of the 15 students selected to attend and had the opportunity to work within a lab that was analyzing the anticodon stem-loop properties of transcription RNA of the infectious disease, anthrax, to better understand how it spreads. The caliber of the facilities, the resources, and the passionate and brilliant people drew me to the university within the first day. By the end of the summer, I knew Rice was my dream school and I later applied Early Decision.