Bianca Reyes ’07 remembers walking in late to her first computer science class at Rutgers University-Newark and being told she was in the wrong class by the professor. “Females weren’t expected to walk into those classes, and here’s this Spanish girl with red lipstick on and hoop earrings, and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not in the wrong class,’” she recalled, but added that her professors and peers quickly accepted her once they saw that she could hold her own. “They realized ‘Oh she’s pretty smart. She doesn’t look it, but she’s pretty smart.’” She laughed. “And that’s been the story of my whole life.”
Reyes is a procurement analyst for PSE&G who works with construction and engineering clients. While her current colleagues at PSE&G are far more diverse than previous companies, she said she’s gotten used to being the only woman or person of color in the room.
Her family moved from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. when she was a child. She didn’t speak English when she started school, but was determined to succeed and was moved from ESL into regular classes in a year.
I didn’t feel like an outsider, because there were people and even professors that looked like me, and they understood the struggles of a working mom. It makes a difference.
She transferred to RU-N after earning her associates degree in computer science at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, through a partnership between the schools. A young mother, Reyes said that she found a diverse and welcoming community at Rutgers-Newark. “I felt included. As I walked into the classrooms I didn’t feel like an outsider, because there were people and even professors that looked like me, and they understood the struggles of a working mom. It makes a difference.”
While at RU-N, she worked for an engineering firm on supply chain management and project management. When she couldn’t find a job in computer science after graduation, she used her skills to create databases and programs to help streamline the firm’s processes. There, too, she was often the only female and Latina in the room, but she says she never let that stop her. “Rutgers prepared me to be comfortable in my knowledge and what I learned and not let my skin color set me back or the fact that I’m the minority in the room.”
She said she considers it a hidden advantage. “I’m relatable to the demographic the company is catering to. And that’s really important, because if [clients and potential partners] don’t see someone that looks like them, they’re not going to want to join forces.”
Reyes worked in engineering for several years before moving into procurement and realizing that she loved it. “I felt like my background in IT and my background in computer science was helping me navigate through the different software and understand the algorithms a little better. And it helped if I had to buy anything that was software-related.” She hasn’t looked back since. In her current role, she uses the skills and experience she’s built up over a decade to coordinate engineering and construction bids for the company.
She is also deeply committed to engaging with her adopted city of Newark and mentoring the next generation of students at RU-N “I live in Newark, I go to work in Newark, I go to church in Newark, I’m just Newark. I love Newark.” She recently joined the Honors College Advisory Committee, working with Honors College students to provide mentoring and help prepare them for their careers.
Her advice to young graduates is to not be afraid to move laterally. “Don’t always expect the corner office right off the bat. You have to learn a little bit about everything going on in that corporation or in the department before you can expect those kind of upward movements. They happen. But it’s better if they happen once you have the concrete foundation.”
“Don’t be a know-it-all,” She said, “Be a learn-it-all.”
At PSE&G, she is coordinator for the Newark 2020 initiative, which aims to bring jobs to Newark residents by connecting them to meaningful, full-time work that pays a living wage. She is also chair of PSE&G’s Hispanic Heritage Month Committee for the Hispanic Employee Business Resource Group, “Adelante.”
Through her work with Adelante, she organizes company initiatives to share Hispanic culture with the broader company and community and mentors middle school students in Newark, many of whom are immigrants or first-generation Americans. “I share with them the struggle of bringing home a lunch application and having my parents fill that out when they didn’t even know English,” she said, and they listen because they see themselves in her story. She wants them to see that adversity doesn’t have to stop you from achieving success.
“Adversity is a moment in time that is used to stretch you to your full capability. Once you face adversity, you’re going to move as a different person. And because you’re stretched and you’re stronger, you’re more capable.”
It’s the same lesson she strives to teach her own children, who she raised alone after their father died. Her message to them: “Don’t use adversity to keep you down. Let it be just a moment. Let it be a buildable moment.”