May 2021

Paula Ayala ’17

Paula Ayala is a native Houstonian who joined Awty in Kindergarten. After a short period in Rio, Brazil where she attended school for 5th and 6th grade, Paula returned to Awty and graduated in 2017. 

She is currently finishing her Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering at the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University and after graduation, she will join the med-tech company Medtronic as an engineer in their technical rotation program. 

Down the road, she hopes she will be able to design medical devices that help populations in low-resource settings have access to life-saving technologies. 

We are so proud to feature her in this month’s Alumni Spotlight!

1. When did you join Awty? How did you hear about the school? When did you graduate from Awty? 

I joined Awty in Kindergarten. My parents were moving from Mexico to Houston, and after asking their peers and co-workers, they chose Awty because the school had the diversity, the world view, and the international exposure they were looking for.

2. What person, course, or experience most influenced you while at Awty? How? 

There were so many! Awty is an amazing place, I am very grateful to have been able to attend Awty. The teachers I met there have been friends, mentors and I am still in touch with a couple of them. 

From an athletic perspective, Sam Waugh, the Head of Upper School, who was also my soccer coach and my track coach, had a huge influence on me. He was very tough and demanding, and looking back I realize he helped me build a mental toughness that has stayed with me. 

My physics teachers in high school, Mr. Sload and Ms. Glidewell, were not only my mentors, but also became my friends. Both of them showed a lot of interest in my development as an engineer. They knew I was interested in STEM and really encouraged me throughout my journey to become an engineer. They showed interest not only in my academics but also as an athlete and a person. I didn’t realize how unique that quality was until I got to college and many of my friends said they didn’t have that same experience in their high school. 

3. Share your favorite memory of Awty: 

Probably the one that stands out more is the International Festival, it was very exciting to see the entire student body there, and everyone was having a great time and sharing their culture.

4. What college did you attend and what did you study?

I am in my last year of college, I graduate in May 2021 from the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University. I studied Bioengineering, with a focus on Global Health Technologies. My focus is on developing new medical solutions and tools that are used in the hospital. Way down the line in my career, I hope that I am able to do that but for lower resource settings. Because it’s a completely different ballgame to design medical devices in those settings.

5. Is there any experience at Awty that has prepared you for what you are doing today? 

In my time at Awty, specifically when I was in high school, I learned a lot about leadership. This is something that sparked at Awty and has stayed with me since then. 

At Awty everyone was passionate about something and everyone had that urgency to get involved. Rice is very similar in that sense. At Awty I was captain of the Varsity Soccer team, President of the Science Olympiad Club, and a mentor to new students. At Rice, I have continued that and taken on even more responsibilities. Over the course of my time at Rice I have been the President of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Internal Vice President of SWE, Marketing Chair for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), captain of the Rice Women’s Club Soccer Team, a Chair on the Diversity Council, I was on the Undergraduate Degree Advisory Council, I was even a Tour Guide!

Since my time at Awty I’ve known that a big priority in my life was to do things outside my classroom. I don’t get pleasure from doing homework and reading, I want to practice, be hands-on and interact with people. I would much rather be working with people and lead teams of people. 

Being a minority in the US, I also want to make sure everyone is heard. Being a woman in STEM especially I realize how important it is for everyone to have a voice at the table. 

6. What will you do once you graduate from Rice?  

I am going to start working as an engineer for a company called Medtronic in Connecticut. I will do their rotational program, which will give me different perspectives and opportunities as well as assignments within the engineering field. I’ll be working with four different teams over the course of two years. 

7. What advice would you give current Awty students interested in pursuing a career in your field?

If they are interested in going into Biomedical Engineering, I think being in Houston is a huge advantage. They are in the right place at the right time. There are so many opportunities to get involved. They can meet with an undergraduate student at Rice or UH or any other University that has a Biomedical or Bioengineering Program. There’s a startup Hub in Houston called TMCx that can give them advice about emerging digital health and medical device startups. They can also explore genetics, prosthetics, and pharmaceutical routes by reaching out to universities and college professors. Hop on LinkedIn, reach out to Awty alums, reach out to me! I am happy to help! Build your network. 

8. What is something people may not know about you?

I would love to get more involved in community gardens. They have a real impact on the communities. Plus, the practice of gardening has really good health effects on people, and it offers at-risk youth other outlets of self-expression. I would like to learn more about gardening once I move out of Houston. In any city I will live in, I want to leave it better than I found it.