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HomeCosta RicaMeizel Leiva-Rojas: Passion for Life and Engineering with a Tamale Scented Education

Meizel Leiva-Rojas: Passion for Life and Engineering with a Tamale Scented Education

Meizel Leiva Rojas’ life is a great example of how to maintain passion, faith and joy alive in the midst of adverse circumstances, including serious health problems. Commitment to innovation in electronics and computing, the knowledge derived from programming and computer architecture are all parts of Meizel’s daily life.

Her love for knowledge was first displayed at the Ricardo Jiménez Oreamuno school in Tejar del Guarco and the Jesús Jiménez Zamora school in Cartago. Meizel completed her high school education at the Colegio Científico Costarricense in Cartago and obtained her bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering at the Costa Rica Institute of Technology and her master’s degree in Technological Innovation Management at Universidad Nacional.

She also has a specialty in fiber optics from the company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT Japan). Meizel works at Intel Costa Rica as a product development engineer and has won several important awards for her research and leadership skills.

What did you have to sacrifice to achieve your professional goals?

From elementary school to university I had to sacrifice hours of sleep, trips and time with my family. And of course I had to sacrifice weekend excursions and those ‘usual things’ teenagers do. Why? My family was poor, and I had to figure out how to get ahead. From fourth grade on I started making paper bags and stuffed toys that my older sister helped me sell with her coworkers (I used to make them in the evenings), and I also taught math classes to friends and classmates that needed help.

In ninth grade I worked during the three-month vacation in a flower company. When I started in the Scientific High-School I couldn’t continue working since I had to study until very late at night almost every day. I was lucky to have a scholarship. At university I took up to five assistantships per semester and taught physics at the Scientific High School of Cartago.

Also, my mom made tamales to sell so that I could buy materials for my projects. When I needed something, she converted it to tamales: “Mommy, I need an engineering calculator,” I said. “Ok, I’ll give you 50 sets of tamales,” she replied, and my sister and I would sell them. That is why I have always said that my degree smells like tamales.

It was a beautiful stage, very exhausting, but I learned the value of fighting to make my dreams come true. As a professional I have sacrificed family time when my work has required it but it has been compensated by all the technological advances and the support from the company and my loved ones.

Please tell us more about your childhood.

At the age of 11 I had two very difficult experiences: my sister Ivannia died of Wilson’s disease and I was diagnosed with the same condition. I went through very hard months, both due to Ivannia’s death and my health problems. At the time of the diagnosis, the doctors projected that I would live only three months and sent me to stay in bed. My elementary teacher at that time, Ms. Ana Lía López, went to teach me at home until the school year ended. This is how I finished the fifth grade, in bed.

 I am a strong believer in God, so I firmly feel that a miracle from God brought me out of that situation, as well as the complication that I suffered later due to the treatment of the disease. When I was going to start secondary school I was advised to not expose myself to an academic workload, that it was better for me to learn a trade.

But I asked my mom for permission to continue because of my love for math and science. She was always with me in the good times, in the not so good and in the very good times,and we got through everything together!

Though I was the one to receive a degree, I like to say that both my mom and I graduated from university.

I love my job thanks to everything I have lived.  I feel grateful every single day for the opportunity of going to work to do what I love! As for Wilson’s disease I will live with it until my last day because it is a genetic and chronic condition. I take medications to get rid of excessive copper from the body to be able to live.

From my condition I learned that today I have the opportunity to do things and that is why I go and do them. I am happy for each of my achievements, and if I am still here it is because God wants me to continue using my talents and make them grow. I learned to love everything I do, every single day.

When I was a child, I needed to know how everything worked. Every toy that fell into my hands ended up disassembled because I wanted to see what was inside. One day, with a lot of effort, my older sister bought a red transistor radio and left it on the dresser to go to work. When she left, I took it all apart with the screwdrivers from my mom’s sewing machine, cut each little piece with a nail clipper, to see what it had inside.

And of course, then I couldn’t put it together! I haven’t paid my sister for the radio yet.

Who are your role models in science and technology?

I cannot say that some famous person in science fascinated me as a child or implicitly invited me to be a follower, but there are two people who were role models for me: In the first place, my sister Ivannia.

She died when she was just 15 years old, but she always told me that if I wanted to understand how things worked, to make them last longer or make them excel, I had to study science because there I would find the necessary explanations to understand and enrich my knowledge. She explained to me everything she was learning at school. When she was gone, I followed her advice unconditionally.

Secondly, my Physics teacher at school, Nemecio Zúñiga Loaiza. He taught me that loving science was the best thing that could happen to me, and that my profession could be my hobby. He took the time to explain to me what the careers related to physics and programming were all about, which led me to discover my vocation: Electronics.

I wish all teachers were like him! As for recognized professionals, I am passionate about the work of Nikola Tesla, since he developed his work in one of the most difficult areas of physics: the magnetic field.

He managed to understand the environment, explain it in a simple way to be understood by his followers and made his discoveries available to humanity, without any hidden agenda! He really is a role model, a very cool person.

What are values that need to be instilled in young people today?

Love what you do. If we do our work with love, if we like and are passionate about it, everything goes very well. Have respect for others, for the work of others and also for your own.

What memory do you treasure the most and why?

The best moments have been in my learning process, because I don’t really see challenges as difficulties, but as moments to learn. I love studying so it is really satisfying when I have been given time to train and then apply the new knowledge. I have accomplished projects that have helped to increase production performance, or to optimize the way processes are carried out in the company where I work. Seeing them work is really satisfying.

My two awards in Electronics are treasured in my heart as is my scholarship to Japan. The recognitions at a corporate level for the projects that I started have a very special meaning in my career and serve as fuel to create new ones.

What have been the main achievements of your career so far?

Achieving my title of technical leader at Intel. I love my work, I am passionate about it, I don’t do it to seek recognition but for the satisfaction of learning, improving and changing my surroundings. But when they recognize you with a corporate award, it really is a source of pride. My aspirations are to continue growing in my field, to be a valuable element for the company, to help new generations of engineers grow and to be good role models for younger people.

 Please share an anecdote related to your work

Because the company has locations in many parts of the world, I have traveled to many places, especially the United States. However, one of those trips was to Penang, Malaysia. I have very good friends and colleagues there. One of my friends invited me to eat the most exotic fruit there: the durian. It has a very good flavor, although it is known as “the stinkiest fruit” in the world. She also took me to a Thai healing restaurant, where they had various dishes to clean kidneys, stomach and even vision. Very interesting!

How do you face the challenges and limitations you encounter?

The most important thing is to establish a schedule, respecting it and remembering that it is not only about work: the “life” project is the most important thing and includes both family and work, and it is necessary to give them their space. Having a support network is essential, which in my case is my husband, my mother, my inlaws and my brothers. The support from the family allows me to focus on my work, helping me to grow and give my best. My achievements also belong to that entire network.

Do you think that the contribution of women to the field of science and technology is different from that of men or not?

No, it is not different. All people, regardless of our differences and similarities, contribute ideas, and with them value to projects and results. A comprehensive solution is the best solution.

What are the main challenges facing humanity today?

The lack of interest for the good of people and the alienation in electronic media. Humanity needs to be more connected, but in real ways, in ways that we can transmit love, company and sincerity to all the beings around us. It is vital to be kind to the environment, respect nature and make our actions respectful of it.

What recommendations would you give to young people interested in pursuing a career like yours?

Love what you do. You do not have to be scared if something does not work the first time or maybe the solution you found is not the right one. It is essential to keep trying. Trust other people, ask, do research and try again. Things always work out.

Learn more about Meizel in the book The Intrepids in Science and Technology published by Editorial Tecnologica de Costa Rica:

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