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Natalia’s Story







Say Yes Syracuse alum Natalia Montilla is an icon for Afro-Latinas, women, and girls entering a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field.

Natalia attended Nottingham High School, graduating in 2015, where she participated in an after-school resource program at Onondaga Community College (OCC) called the “Liberty Partnership Program.” This program encourages students to finish high school and continue their education by providing tutoring services, assistance with school, regent’s exams, study sessions, and trips off-site.

Natalia was informed about Say Yes opportunities through information sessions with Ahmeed Turner, Say Yes Syracuse’s Executive Director. Natalia said Ahmeed and Say Yes helped her through the college application and planning.

Through the Liberty Partnership program, coupled with a Say Yes scholarship, Natalia was equipped with college-level skills and ready for a bright future.

Natalia attended OCC majoring in math and science, receiving a two-year degree. Following OCC graduation, she attended the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), majoring in electrical engineering. Natalia graduated from RIT with a bachelor’s degree in May 2021.

While at RIT, Natalia participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), a program that aims to increase the quantity and quality of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates from diverse backgrounds. Natalia was also a part of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) initiative, designed to foster academic excellence for students in STEM majors.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Natalia began working at L3Harris Technologies, an aerospace and defense company, as a Test Engineer. In her role, Natalia collaborates with design engineers to create/tailor Qualification Test plans that validate design requirements and meet project timelines and budget constraints ensuring the quality and reliability of L3Harris products. Natalia says she is responsible for catching any flaws early in the design process, so she can work with engineers on waysto fix them. For example, she tries to break products because they shouldn’t be breaking when they enter the real world!

Living in Rochester, New York, Natalia hangs out with friends and visits with family members in her free time. She said any time she has free, she tries to work on side projects to maintain her engineering craft in addition to being an avid sewer.

Natalia notes that Say Yes has helped alleviate the stress that she would have incurred if she had to focus on how to pay for college. When Natalia transferred to RIT, she needed additional support from Say Yes and Ahmeed so that she could focus on being a student and not the logistics of financials. “Say Yes helps underrepresented minorities even out the playing field so that we can have the same opportunities as everyone born in different circumstances. It’s a great program,” said Natalia.

Natalia notes that her first goal was to earn a degree in engineering. In the future, she hopes to work on developing and improving assistive technology, which may mean more schooling. And she is more than ready, she says!

Natalia recommends keeping your goals and dreams in mind when entering college. “When challenges arise, and when people tell you to give up or try something else: if you want to follow your dreams, you’ll always find a way,” she said.

She said that though college feels like a lot, always make time for friends, relax, and have a balanced life.