One of Jazlyn Carvajal’s most vivid MIT memories is actually her last day as a student. The moment, captured in photo, shows her parents and brother beaming with pride as they stand with her in Killian Court. But Jazlyn is staring down at her degree in awe.
“I’m thinking, ‘It’s in there, right? That’s my name?’” she says. “That was what was going on in my head that day. Oh my God. This is real. I made it!”
A first-generation American, Carvajal is president emeritus of MIT’s Club of Northern New Jersey, executive director of New Jersey’s Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and cofounder of the nonprofit Latinas in STEM.
In addition to her civic and volunteer work, Carvajal is a successful construction project manager and entrepreneur who co-founded SOYD, a business consulting firm, in 2014. But she still remembers the self-described imposter syndrome that plagued her at MIT.
“My first semester I didn’t do well during tests. I could understand the material but wasn’t doing well with exams,” she says. “For me it was confidence—needing time to just believe you are right. MIT has a way of doing that to everybody.”
She sought assistance from her advisor and MIT counselors, settled into project-based work in the civil engineering department, and became engaged with the minority community at MIT, particularly through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Mujeres Latinas at MIT, and La Union Chicana por Aztlan (LUChA), an on-campus group that provides support to students who identify with the Latino culture.
“They were so ready and willing to give advice in any way they could,” she says. “We were each other’s familia. I’m still very close to all of my MIT friends. We talk almost daily even though we’re all over the world.”
Carvajal’s MIT experience inspired her to cofound Latinas in STEM in 2013 alongside a group of alumnae including Diana Albarrán Chicas ’03, Veronica Garcia ’02, Luz Rivas ’95, and Noramay Cadena ’03, MBA ’11. She believes their experiences can help others in the Latino community. The organization hosts academic conferences, partners with colleges across the U.S., assists with grants, and provides mentoring services.
“There are kids out there just like us: first generation Americans, getting ready to go to college,” she says. “I feel like our stories can really inspire.”
Carvajal values the perseverance that she learned at MIT and hopes to teach the same values to a younger generation.
“I have a degree from MIT and I still started at the bottom as a professional—folding drawings, logging them in to a computer, and working 16 hour days!” she says. “And that’s OK! Everyone starts somewhere, and you have to be willing to do the work.”