Student Essay Contest

Intelligence, Intrigue, and Independence: The Life of Dr. Shelley Cazares

2015 AWM Essay Contest: Hight School Honorable Mention

By: Mariah Jacobs, Sherwood High School

Intriguing (adj.): arousing the curiosity or interest of by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities. I added this word to my vocabulary at seven years old when my aunt Shelley came to visit, toting the new adjective inside her organized carry-on suitcase. For the week she stayed, the word was everywhere: she said foreign affairs were intriguing, the prospects of a patented invention she was developing were intriguing, and the latest fashion trends of the Minnesotan winter were intriguing. Ever since that visit, I grew up associating “intriguing” with my aunt. Only recently, however, did I realize the accuracy of this connection, because if anyone fits the definition of the word, it is Dr. Shelley Cazares: a mathematically inclined MIT and Oxford University engineering graduate, current Research Staff Member at the Institute for Defense Analyses, and, most importantly, a strong, competent role model for all young women aspiring to succeed in STEM fields.
Shelley’s tendency to find concepts intriguing originates from her early curiosity about the surrounding world. Although she grew up in small-town Tehachapi, California as the distant third child in a family of five, Shelley refused to compromise her desire to explore the world. In fact, she cites her precocious childhood activities as the reason behind her early appreciation of math and science. In relation to the 29th anniversary of the tragedy aboard the Challenger, Shelley recollects that she “was so into space [in 1986]” because “that was the year [she] got the Lego FX Star Patroller for Christmas, and would spend all [her] free time drawing pictures of the space shuttle”. As a young girl, Shelley chose Legos over Cabbage Patch Kids, and her penchant for logic and engineering stuck.
Shelley’s strong interest in space did not wane as she entered high school; rather, it was complimented by her excellence in math and science. At Tehachapi High School, Shelley was the only female who participated in Mathletes. She also challenged herself with numerous AP classes, even taking AP tests for subjects she independently studied. Thanks to her science teacher of three years, Mr. Jim Grecian, Shelley was successful in the sciences as well as mathematics and felt encouraged to consider a future in STEM. However, as Shelley’s high school graduation neared, it was increasingly evident that the Cazares’ financial situation would limit her opportunities for a college education. Fortunately, she won a scholarship from AT&T Bell Laboratories that offered her a full ride to M.I.T. – an opportunity that a young Latina woman from tiny Tehachapi, California once would only have dreamed about. This dream to study engineering became a reality for Shelley as she graduated Tehachapi High School as Valedictorian in 1994 and moved to Boston, Massachusetts to begin her post-secondary education.
Schooling would continue to constitute a large part of Shelley’s life for the next nine years, eventually resulting in her graduation from Oxford University with a Ph. D. in Engineering Sciences in 2003. During those nine years, Shelley did not lack enthusiasm in her studies. While she completed her undergraduate degree at M.I.T., majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and minoring in Spanish and Biomedical Engineering, Shelley completed an internship at Bell Laboratories during the summers of1995, 1996, and 1997. Her research focused on designing pattern recognition algorithms for an artificial nose. This inspired her decision to further pursue biomedical engineering after completing her undergraduate degree. As a testament to her hard work and excellence at M.I.T., Shelley was named a British Marshall Scholar in 1998, allowing her to study abroad at Oxford University in England. While at Oxford, Shelley conducted research in Signal Processing and Neural Networks and completed her doctoral dissertation in 2003 on automated fetal heart rate analysis during labor. Due to her persistence and dedication, Dr. Shelley Cazares succeeded in achieving an exceptional education that would prepare for her future career.
For the past 12 years, Shelley has held jobs in which she puts her knowledge of mathematics, engineering, and computer science to use. Employed at Guidant from 2003- 2007, she patented over 25 inventions to help people suffering from cardiac distress and arrhythmia. Since 2007 she has been a Research Staff Member for the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington D.C. One of her more recent projects focuses on safely disarming unexploded ordnance (UXO), which are previously fired explosives located in present day civilian areas that still have the potential to detonate. Because of the technical nature of this project, Shelley’s previous background in STEM majors serves her well.
With just 20 years’ difference in age, there are times when my aunt Shelley and I are compared by our family. Although I may lack the years of experience that she has, I am honored to be considered on the path towards success like my aunt. I am constantly inspired by Shelley’s intelligence, independence, nuanced mind, and determination to overcome challenges. For these reasons, I consider Dr. Shelley Cazares is the epitome of intrigue.
About the Student
Mariah is a senior at Sherwood High School who can often be found immersed in her computer screen or the pages of a book. A self-professed nerd, bibliophile, and living room Jeopardy! aficionado, she loves to pursue and apply knowledge. For this reason, computers have always been fascinating to Mariah. From a childhood of animating stick-figure masterpieces created in Paint to learning programming languages such as Java in more recent years, she appreciates the creativity and practicality of technology. Outside of school, Mariah is a member of the Interact Club of Sherwood, National Honor Society, Key Club, Feminist Club, and Book Club. Much of her time is dedicated to serving others in the community. In the future, Mariah plans to major in Computer Science and minor in Psychology. Ideally, she would love to combine these two passions and help improve lives by entering the field of human-computer interaction or artificial intelligence.