Canton Online


Next-Gen Stem

It came as no surprise to her family when Isabela D. Spelta ’20 announced she was switching her major from Nursing to Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology.

“My mom is an architect and my grandfather was an engineer,” she said, noting that her decision was simply carrying on a family tradition.

Growing up in Brazil, math and science were a central part of her life. Her parents created an environment where she felt comfortable conducting chemistry experiments at home, no matter how messy.

In high school, an opportunity to study abroad came in the form of a studentexchange program at Gouverneur High School, just 20 minutes from Canton. Spelta’s limited English-language skills made academics a struggle; however, it didn’t discourage her from considering attending college in the U.S.

Her familiarity with the area and interest in math and science made Canton an obvious choice. On top of that, she was optimistic about the career opportunities it would create.

“I was looking for a good working environment and better income possibilities,” she said, pointing out the high demand for STEM graduates,compared to her home country. “The employment market in Brazil is very competitive, so it’s difficult to get a well-paying job.”

When arriving at Canton, her English proficiency was still limited so she sought help from the College’s writing tutors.

“After switching my major, I was required to write lengthy papers, so I had to work extra hard,” she recalled. “The staff at the [Betty J. Evans] Tutoring Center were amazing.”

She also received encouragement from faculty, particularly her mentor and Program Coordinator Associate Professor Dr. Adrienne C. Rygel.

“Dr. Rygel is very supportive and involved,” Spelta said, adding that Rygel encouraged her to join the newly-formed student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Spelta earned high honors and began volunteering for events like the annual Women in Engineering Day, which is a College-sponsored program that brings middle and high school girls to campus to learn about STEM programs.

She also took advantage of the College’s career fairs and networking events to land internships with the New York Department of Transportation (DOT) and Barrett Paving Materials.

“All of the career opportunities I’ve had are because of the connections I’ve made through the College’s Career Services Office.”

Her internship with DOT led to a fulltime position as an Engineer in Training in Watertown.

She also passed the first part of the multi-step process to become a licensed engineer.

A healthy job market makes the prospect of applying for U.S. citizenship appealing. She enjoys the North Country’s rural environment, which is in direct contrast to her upbringing in a metropolitan area.

“I come from a big city, so the lifestyle is calmer here–no traffic and four seasons,” she said. “There is also a greater appreciation for labor in the U.S., and so many more opportunties for engineers, especially women.”