How the liberal arts and origami helped one Sweet Briar engineering grad land the perfect job

Posted on July 12, 2018 by Janika Carey

Citlali Molina
Two years ago, Citlali Molina ’16 was part of the first class to graduate from Sweet Briar College since its near-closure in 2015. Today, she’s living the dream — as a manufacturing engineer for Leonardo DRS in Cypress, Calif.

“The job, and the industry, fascinates me more than anything,” says Molina, who builds specialized infrared sensors for climate satellites and defense applications. “Microelectronics are everywhere in our daily lives, in our phones, watches — really anything with power. To now understand how to build them at the microscopic level continues to amaze me. I work hands-on with delicate, microscopic products that require dexterity, patience and precision.”

During the hiring process, Molina impressed interviewers with her liberal arts background — which they found “refreshing and unique,” she says — and one particular hobby: “Origami showed them that I had dexterity and patience to do delicate tasks. I found it amusing, but they could see that I was well-rounded, despite my little experience in the industry.”

And yet, Molina gained lots of practical skills during her time at Sweet Briar — in 2015, she interned at a company in Silicon Valley. “It was an alumna who offered me the internship,” Molina recalls, adding the offer came around the time of the closure announcement. “Despite being in undergrad limbo, I figured it would be good experience, with or without a college [to go back to]. Turned out to be a good call. Got my college back, and it helped me land a job later.”

Citlali Molina Citlali Molina in the lab at Leonardo DRS in California

Internships are a requirement for engineering majors at Sweet Briar, one of just two women’s colleges in the country with an ABET-accredited engineering program. Most students intern more than once during their time as undergrads, and in many cases, internships turn into job offers even before graduation. Within three months of graduation, 100 percent of Sweet Briar engineers are employed or in grad school.

And there was something else that gave Molina an edge in the industry, she says.

“Sweet Briar’s general engineering science program made me an extremely trainable and malleable asset to my company,” she observes. “I was not particularly devoted to just one engineering field; in fact, I did not really know what kind of engineer I wanted to be while at Sweet Briar. I discovered that I enjoyed microelectronics through my internship as a rising senior. Sweet Briar’s engineering program proved that you can teach me anything and train me in anything. And I know my company saw that about me. Sweet Briar allowed me to peek though many job doors until one eventually swung open for me.”

For Molina, who grew up in California, it was just the right one. This fall, she’s starting a master’s program in materials and manufacturing technology (MMT) at the University of California, Irvine, and it’s sponsored by her company.

Citlali graduation Sweet Briar Molina (right) and her sister at graduation in May 2016

“After a few months of working with DRS, I became interested in how these products work. I handle them and build them all the time, but the science behind them is a mystery,” she explains. “We have test engineers and data scientists at DRS that know all that, and I really want to know it, too. As a California native, UCI had always caught my interest. With a very specific major like MMT, UCI just seems like a perfect fit for me to get those answers to all my questions.”

College degrees are rare in her large Latino family, Molina says, so it’s important for her to set an example. “I wanted to break the mold and try to be an example to my younger cousins,” explains Molina, whose parents came to the U.S. from central Mexico in the 1980s, meeting and finally settling in Pico Rivera, Calif.

“My dad also never finished college, but if he had, he would have been an engineer alongside me,” she adds. “All these facts about my family continue to be incentives to go to college and experience the world as an educated woman. Sweet Briar really helped me become an advocate for education.”

Attending college in Virginia may not have been the most obvious choice for Molina, but it turned out to be the perfect one, she says. “Coming from a Latino background, and a state with many good colleges, I faced a lot of criticism for deciding to study in Virginia,” she notes. “I’ve lived in [Pico Rivera] almost all my life, but after visiting Sweet Briar for an open house weekend, it was a no-brainer! I had to go there no matter the distance or challenges it took.”

Sweet Briar, she adds, equipped her with everything she needs to achieve her goals: circuits and material science on the engineering side and, on the life side, “confidence, moxie and resilience.

“Never once was I brought down for being a female in a male-dominated industry, and I took that confidence with me when I left the pink bubble,” Molina says. “I am who I am because Sweet Briar pushed me to learn and speak up.”

We love checking in with our recent grads to see what they’re up to! This is the first in a series of profiles featuring Sweet Briar’s young alumnae across various disciplines and job fields.