Making Inroads Into STEM

By Gloria Romano-Barrera

As the world evolves so does science and technology. Meet two Latinas, Karla Muñoz and Karla E. Bracamonte who use their skills and passion for STEM making inroads for future generations.

Karla Muñoz

Roche Sequencing Solutions

Born in El Salvador, Karla Muñoz’ interest in science sparked at an early age through her older sister’s science books. The more she was exposed to science, the more she became fascinated by it eventually leading her to take college-level science courses in high school and leading her to pursue a scientific career.

Attending the University of California, Santa Barbara she graduated with a degree in biochemistry. Her first job in the biotechnology industry was at Genentech in a quality control group for drugs in clinical trials. After two years at Genentech, she decided to follow her dream of working in research and joined Roche Sequencing Solutions in the nanopore division where she has been for the past five years. She is currently part of the research and early development group in which modified nucleotides are developed for the nanopore sequencer.

“My current responsibilities include executing experiments that are in the early research phase, analyzing the results of these experiments and use them as guidance for the next steps and decision-making during presentations,” she shares. “Being a part of a well-known and established company such as Roche is a great feeling since this was one of my goals as a young high school girl. It has been quite the uphill climb but certainly worth it. The best part is that I can potentially be a role model for Latinas interested in STEM careers since they can identify with having a similar background as mine.

For Muñoz, earning the freedom and responsibility that comes with owning projects in which she contributes with experimental design

Cultural Celebration Day at Roche.

and execution to guide the overall DNA sequencer platform design is one of her greatest accomplishments.

“The experiments I perform help provide guidelines on the design of Roche’s sequencing platform and once this product is launched it will help many patients,” she shares. “Many times, we are afraid of pursuing our goals because they seem difficult to accomplish. However, the pivotal moment when our mind breaks free from fear is when we can accomplish anything.

Immigrating to the United States at the age of 10 with her mom and sister, Muñoz’ key values instilled at a young age such as hard work, determination and responsibility have shaped her as a professional.

“Latinos are hardworking people who a lot of the times lack the opportunity to progress but once that chance is given we can be unstoppable if we are determined,” she states. “During these times (COVID-19) I am taking it one day at a time, worrying less about the past and future by being more present. I am the kind of person who loves to plan future things and stick to schedules so these are definitely stressful times. However, I’m also somebody who likes to see the good side of everything and therefore I’m working on myself by gaining new knowledge, trying new workouts, learning about meditation, exploring new recipes and staying virtually connected with family and friends.

There are many things we cannot control at the moment but we can still control if we come out from this situation as better individuals based on the daily choices we make.”

Karla E. Bracamonte
Software Quality Engineer Manager

“When I was 17, my brother gave me my first desktop computer, after noticing that I spent most of my time in my high school computer room,” shares software quality engineer manager at Intel, Karla E. Bracamonte. “This experience sparked my interest in computers, and when I came to the U.S. at 26 years old, I maintained a personal passion for technology. Once I learned about the field of computer science, I knew that was the major I wanted, even though I didn’t speak English yet.”

Born and raised in Hermosillo, Sonora in Mexico, after studying at the Instituto Technologico de Hermosillo, Bracamonte left school in 1992 to migrate to the United States with her parents and husband, settling down in Mesa, Arizona. By 1997, she was working at a mailing services company, while attending English classes at Mesa Community College and caring for two children. That same year, she received her permit to work in the U.S. and was hired full-time as a custodian at Arizona State University.

After having her third child in 2006, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and started an internship at Intel, where she worked as a SharePoint site creator. The following year, she was granted American citizenship and accepted a full-time position at Intel in the Digital Home Group as a tester. She then became a software validation engineer, before moving on to become validation lead.

As a software quality engineer manager supporting Intel’s IoT business Bracamonte manages a group of software engineers that are brought on to programs at early stages to make sure the teams follow the best processes to release software with the highest quality possible.

Foto by Megan Rayo, Lighting Creative.

“I love my work and have been able to achieve my dreams through working hard and learning from each experience,” she shares. “I also like to think that raising three kids with my husband helped develop my project manager skills.”

Passionate about community work, Bracamonte is an advocate for women’s educational opportunities. “I love to help people, especially those that are going through similar challenges that I went through,” she states. “The tech industry needs passionate people with diverse perspectives to help solve the challenges of tomorrow. If I hadn’t gone through some of the challenges I faced, I wouldn’t have my work ethic and be able to effectively manage all these different parts of my job, family and marriage.”