NAME: Perla Latorre-Suarez


AFFILIATION: Graduate Research Assistant, University of Central Florida

STATE: Florida

Q: What inspired you to explore the national security community? Do you have a connection to the Military/Government Service?

My father served in the military for 20 years. When I was five years old, my father was deployed to Iraq for a year and a half. As a child, I did not understand a lot about his job and why he needed to leave our country. Growing up, my father and my mother provided answers to my questions. Later I learned that my father was a combat engineer and that his duty was to protect other people. He taught me a lot about technology and engineering basics. My father inspired me to become a mechanical engineer, where I would gain knowledge to develop technology that would protect our troops and our country. Before going into college, my father and I had a conversation about being a woman in a male-dominated work field. My answer was, "As long as I enjoy and love my job, it does not matter if it is male or female-dominated."

Q: As a woman, how is the national security community different for you?

As a woman, the national security community has not been any different for me so far. During my X-Force fellowship, I felt included and heard in every discussion. I felt that I had a strong voice and that my opinions and ideas were valuable for the project. I think it was one of the healthiest environments that I have worked in. When I applied to be an X-Force fellow, I thought that being a Hispanic woman would be a challenge for me to succeed; however, it was not. I worked with an amazing team and a great mentor that supported me through the fellowship program.

Q: What legacy do you want to leave for the next generation of women professionals in the innovation ecosystem?

I am only 23 years old, my career as an engineer is beginning. I grew up in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, where not many STEM academic opportunities are offered to students. I grew up knowing just the basis of science and innovation. I moved to Florida when I was 16 years old; I had to learn a new language and overcome some challenges to be able to succeed academically. For me, not only being a woman in the field has been a challenge, but also English is my second language. I would like to inspire and motivate the next generation of women in the innovation ecosystem to work on achieving their goals and overcoming social challenges. Sometimes it can be intimidating being one of the few girls in a classroom. However, many times the classmates and professors are supportive. I used to be shy and would limit myself to pursue opportunities and participate in activities. After I started doing research at the University of Central Florida, I met my faculty advisor. She inspired me to continue pursuing higher education in the engineering field and seeking opportunities that would make me a stronger engineer. She also reminded me that I have a strong voice and that mistakes are important, no matter your gender or your ethnicity.

Q: Do you remember a moment when you saw a difference for women in the professional world? What do you remember? How did it impact your work?

In my short career, I have experienced differences for women in the professional world. Most of the time, our voice is not enough, and we need to provide stronger arguments and research support than males do in the field. However, I have tried to take it from the positive side. I would be more prepared to answer questions and would have more knowledge from the information gained. Being a woman in the innovation community can be challenging, but we can show the world that jobs do not need to have gender or ethnicity labels.

Q: What books, podcasts, or thought leaders do you recommend when it comes to Women’s History Month and understanding the issues facing women in the workplace?

I have not taken the time to read books or listen to podcasts, but I listen to people's advice. I have attended different conferences where the speakers talk about diversity and the challenges that women need to go through to be able to succeed. Some women decide to pursue higher education, so their voice is heard. Some other women decide to overcome challenges in the work field. Taking into account the advice that other women share with me is important. They are taking the time to make sure that I succeed by learning from their experiences in the work field.