Danica “Dani” Forestal graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and Florida State University in 2020 and has been using her experience to support women in STEM ever since.
The electrical engineer was recently crowned “Miss Raleigh USA” in North Carolina and will compete for Miss North Carolina USA in February. She hopes to use the platform to amplify awareness about the causes she cares about, like having more women in STEM.
“It’s especially hard for minority girls to feel like they belong in STEM and to get over the imposter syndrome that they sometimes have,” Forestal said. “In college there were times I was the only Black girl in my engineering class. You feel alone and it can be intimidating. Many women helped me along the way and gave me the support I needed to do well in engineering. I hope to pay forward the support.”
Forestal is an associate software engineer at Capital One through their Technology Development Program. The two-year development program is designed for graduates to gain world class technical skills and a comprehensive understanding of technology to develop as engineers.
We caught up with her just in time for her final preparations for the statewide pageant. Here’s what she had to say.
Do you remember a professor at the college who was especially helpful to you?
Dr. Shonda Bernadin has been very supportive of me over the years. I remember going to the college website of the department of electrical engineering to find out what they offer. Then I saw her photo and was interested in some of the same research topics. It was comforting to me to see a successful Black female professor doing what I wanted to do. I saw her as a role model and reached out to her. She was helpful and inspiring. When she became my professor, we became very close. She helped me find research and grant opportunities. We even planned the FAMU-FSU COE 2020 Hackathon together.
What advice would you give girls who want to go into STEM?
A quote that is important to me goes something like this: “Courage is not the lack of fear but acting despite it.” I like to tell girls that in everything they accomplish, they will be scared, but the fear is temporary—maybe five minutes, or however long that process is. What’s worse is not going after the opportunities you want. It’s a regret that will last longer than those few minutes of fear.
How did the relationship with FSU and FAMU work for you as an FSU student?
It was the best of both worlds. When I got to the College of Engineering, the classes were small. The campus was diverse. It was easy to make friends and meet people because FAMU and FSU shared organizations and activities.
I got to experience all different types of cultures. It exposed me to new ideas and helped me become well-rounded, tolerant and more understanding of diverse points of view.
Tell us about your family.
My mother has always been very supportive of me. She came to America as a Haitian immigrant a few years after her mother passed away and became a single parent of two girls at 28 years old. She worked 60 hours a week at just a little over minimum wage to provide for my sister and me. She did everything for us and always stressed the importance of education. She always got me involved in additional classes and educational opportunities.
I grew up poor, but I never felt poor. However, I knew she couldn’t pay for college, so I needed to keep up my grades. Good grades were important, especially if I wanted to have my college fully paid for. I got into the CARE program and was fortunate that the program covered 70% of the cost of my attendance and I was able to get a few outside scholarships that paid the remaining of my cost of attendance.
How has your experience with the National Society of Black Engineers helped you?
When I first got to college, I didn’t know how internships worked, and NSBE showed me what was out there. There were many professional development opportunities through the organization. I was on the executive board as a chair, then became the president, and later served on the Region 3 conference planning committee. I networked with a lot of people and companies and learned how to speak to them better. They taught me what corporate America looks for when hiring engineers, and the skills NSBE gave me helped launch my career. I got some very tangible skills from NSBE that I still use today in my everyday work life.
Advice for students?
Don’t give up. Focus on developing and improving your mental health and finding self-worth from within yourself. Life is about knowing your value and your principles. Live them, be content, and stop caring about what other people think.
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