Guatemalan Marie André Destarac has overcome many barriers and, despite having everything against her, she has stood out in the world of electronics and robotics. In the Month of Women’s History, we interviewed this pioneer to get to know her journey.
Destarac was born in Guatemala City in 1981 and from a very young age showed a curious mind. She graduated from Universidad del Valle of Guatemala as an Electronics Engineer in 2006. She worked on various research projects in Guatemala, Japan, and Spain. These studies were focused on the areas of automation, robotics, and the development of medical devices.s.
Later, Dr. Destarac obtained her master’s and doctorate in robotics at the Polytechnic University of Madrid -UPM-. She worked in research projects such as ORTE, which consisted in the development of a robotic exoskeleton for the rehabilitation of an adult’s arm, and the OSCANN desk project, which consists of an eye scanner that allows diagnosing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
How was your experience as a student of Electronic Engineering?
Overall it was a very good experience. I will always be grateful to UVG because it gave me all of the bases needed to do what I do today. Additionally, the university’s research climate inspires students to strive for excellence. Although there was also a difficult part because there were not many women in the field. I would have liked to have had a closer reference, as I was looking for mentors, but they were all foreigners.
– How do you feel being the first guatemalan woman to have a Doctorate in Robotics?
I feel very satisfied. The truth is that I did not look to be “the first person” to accomplish things. I realized I was the first in several things, later on. It can be lonely at times and the burden can be heavy as more expectations are created. But there was also a beautiful part because it allowed me to inspire others. If my example pushes other women to study scientific and technical careers, I am pleased.
– What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
I think there have been two. The first was to get my degree because I had everything against me. My high school focused a lot on social aspects, so when I entered university I had to level up in numerical classes and study more than others. Also, I did not have my father’s support because he believed that Electronic Engineering was too demanding, and suitable only for men.
The second was to decide to leave Guatemala when everything was going very well: I was part of a revolution in my field, but I sensed that more opportunities could come. It is not easy to put your whole life in two suitcases, cross the Atlantic and start from scratch. When I arrived in Spain I had to build my reputation again. It has taken time. I had to work hard to show that I could do what my résumé said.
How do you get involved so that more Guatemalan girls and women pursue careers in science and technology?
I take every opportunity that comes my way to speak with young women, be it lectures or publications. I am also part of the executive committee of OWSD Guatemala (Organization of Women in Science for the Developing World) which is a foundation that brings together women in different scientific fields in developing countries. The chapter in Guatemala has more than 300 members. Currently, I am the coordinator of the Mentoring Team, so I advise other mentors and also connect with young scientists and students.
– What would you say to young women who want to develop in these fields?
That they never give up, and I would share a phrase that has been decisive for me: “don’t tell me that the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon” (Paul Brandt).