REU Student Spotlight: Erika Gutierrez

By Phoebe Grinnell, SEAS Correspondent

NAME: Erika Gutierrez

HOMETOWN: San Bernadino, Calif.

COLLEGE: California State University at San Bernadino


MAJOR: Computer science

HARVARD LAB: Radhika Nagpal, Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science

RESEARCH MENTORS: Nic Carey and Jeff Dusek

Describe the work you are currently doing in the lab.                                                                                                        

In my lab, we are creating robots that move autonomously outdoors and have object detection to prevent them from running into obstacles.

What do you enjoy about research or science in general? How did you become interested in science?

When I was younger I loved math, and that is what drew me into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). This is my first time conducting research. This program is giving me a new experience, one I wouldn’t have gotten at home. Being able to come here and explore science and research in a way that I haven’t before has definitely been an amazing experience so far.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of working in a research lab?                                                                                                                        

The biggest challenge is having questions and not knowing the answers. In my lab, we come across a lot of obstacles in which we don’t know what to do and we have to find ways around that. Having a question and not knowing where to turn has definitely been challenging, but utilizing the resources that we have inside and outside the lab has been very helpful.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned this summer?                                                                                           

Before I came here, I had a few struggles with some people around my hometown telling me that a Mexican doesn’t belong at this school or that a female doesn’t belong in the STEM field. Coming here and seeing how welcoming and ready everyone is to help was a surprise and something I didn’t expect. The atmosphere is very different than what I had anticipated and I love it here so much.

How do you think this experience will benefit you in your future coursework or career aspirations?                                                                             

I come from a town that is not in a very stable position right now. It just came out of bankruptcy. This program will open a lot of doors that wouldn’t have been available in my hometown. In terms of coursework, knowledge of what research is, all the things I have learned, and hands on experience with robotics will definitely benefit me in future computer science classes.

What is your future academic/career plan?                                                             

I hope to pursue a master’s and Ph. D. in the robotics field and hopefully work for the robotics team at Disneyland.

What are your hobbies?                                                                                                  

I like to swim, play the violin, and play soccer with my cousin.