The ‘Nueva Latina’ Isn’t Your Typical Civil Engineering Role Model
By Ben Walpole
It’s not every day you find a civil engineer whose lifelong passion is writing.
Then again, Anali Martinez Gonzalez is not your everyday civil engineer.
Martinez Gonzalez started “The Nueva Latina” lifestyle blog more than six years ago to share her experiences as a Latina civil engineer living and working in the United States.
“I think what motivated me was the lack of our story being told,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “I’m very candid in saying this is not every person’s like me’s experience. All of our experiences are different. This is just how I see the world through my eyes.
“When the blog started, it just kind of took off more than I thought it would.”
Martinez Gonzalez has found career success as a graduate engineer for MWM Design Group in Austin, Texas, and she uses both her ASCE involvement and her online platform to serve as a role model for younger engineers and students.
ASCE has honored her as a 2020 New Face of Civil Engineering.
Martinez Gonzalez grew up around civil engineering. Her dad studied civil engineering in Mexico before taking his first full-time job across the border in San Antonio. Soon he moved his family to Del Rio, Texas, to start his own firm. By the time Anali was a teenager, he was the county surveyor, and she was joining him for field work.
She took summer classes so that she could graduate from high school a year early and begin studying civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
A strange thing happened, though, when it was time for the 9-to-5 grind of professional life.
“I didn’t like civil engineering when I started working,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “I had this moment of reflection – ‘Why did I do this? Did I only do this because of my parents?’”
No regrets. She concluded that she hadn’t made a mistake. She just needed to develop her skills and find the right fit.
She started in roadway design, followed by traffic signal design and then airport runway design.
“Thankfully, the company I started at was pretty amazing,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “I learned from people who knew how to teach me well.”
She’d started to work in land development, when fate intervened at an ASCE networking event, no less. Martinez Gonzalez met Julia Harrod, president and CEO of MWM Design Group.
“I fell in love with her energy and her leadership style,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “And they were looking for people. We met up for BBQ – because, of course, Texas.
“She asked me about wastewater design – ‘How about you come over and give it a try?’”
The results couldn’t be better for Martinez Gonzalez.
“I love the culture, I love the people, I love the work I do,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “I really feel like I’m having an impact on the community. It’s a direct impact, which is really cool to me.”
The Nueva Latina
Martinez Gonzalez loved English classes in college.
“The professor didn’t understand why this engineering student knew how to write and speak so well,” she said, laughing. “But that was always my passion, to be a writer.”
Her writing career actually began with a dating blog. The topic, however, needed an adjustment when, during her senior year at UT-Austin, in a geotechnical lab course, she met the man who would soon become her husband.
“After that, I wanted to stop my blogging adventure, but my husband convinced me to keep writing,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “He told me to just blog about what I know.”
And with that “The Nueva Latina” began.
She writes about everything: from personal setbacks to music recommendations, from words of inspiration to food reviews. All of it allows her to put herself out there as a civil engineering role model for a large audience.
“I noticed in my volunteering efforts, especially student outreach to young people of color, that when I’d say, ‘I’m a civil engineer,’ they’d say, ‘Oh well, that’s not something I can do.’ Especially girls who think, ‘Well, I’m not a man, I’m of color, I don’t really see myself in those environments,’” Martinez Gonzalez said.
“That’s something that really motivated me to strive to communicate that message to people. I am Latina. I’m very proud of my Mexican heritage. I love being Mexican. But I’m also American. I really like mariachi music. I used to sing in a mariachi band and play the guitar and the violin. But I also love Biggie Smalls and Frank Sinatra.
“I want to share that story to show people of color that you can be of both worlds, but also showing people who are not of color that we’re all the same at the end of the day. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, but we’re all living the same life.
“I think that’s a good message to send to the world.”
One thing you’ll notice about Martinez Gonzalez is that wherever she is, she leads.
With ASCE, she was director for the Austin Branch Younger Member Forum. She now serves as the visibility chair for the Society-level Committee on Younger Members.
She is on the board of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. She’s organized several leadership conferences for her Kappa Delta Chi Sorority.
“Joining an organization or taking on a role just to put it on your resume, to me, is dumb,” Martinez Gonzalez said.
“I’m very careful about deciding what things I get involved in. And I do that on purpose. I don’t want to do something and give it only 50 percent.”
She takes her leadership inspiration from her parents.
“I like to talk a lot about them, because when people talk about the American Dream, my parents are that,” Martinez Gonzalez said. “Both came to the United States knowing little or no English. They both ended up going to college, graduating. My mom is the CEO of a credit union. Dad had his own firm.
“That really motivated me growing up. My parents didn’t shy away from telling us about where they came from or taking us to the places where they grew up, showing us the conditions of how they lived. And they still made it.
“I grew up pretty comfortable. I didn’t have to worry about money or anything really. I was set up so high compared to where they started that now I feel I can do even better or go even higher than where they did in their