Amber Montiel has been living her dream working as an engineer for Boeing. Her story begins in a small border town in South Texas.
BORN IN DONNA, TEXAS, Montiel was raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather worked as a truck driver and her grandmother was a homemaker. Even as a young girl, Montiel says she was encouraged to do everything she could to be independent and self-sufficient.
“My grandparents always told me that I should be able to support myself and that I didn’t need to depend on anyone but myself,” recalls Montiel. “They believed that a good education was going to be my ticket to that kind of self-sufficiency.”
Montiel recalls attending another public school locally and not feeling challenged when it came to her coursework, even as a member of the school’s gifted and talented (GT) program. This ultimately led her family to explore other options when it came to her education.
“At my previous school, I felt like I was just going through the motions, and my grandmother felt the same way,” says Montiel. “We first heard about IDEA at our church. There was this flyer someone had posted talking about a school called IDEA in Donna and we applied, and I got in.”
Like many students, Montiel said the transition to IDEA was an adjustment.
“They really hold you accountable, so the transition to learning to be responsible for yourself and getting used to having that much homework and responsibility took time,” she says. “There were times when I would feel upset and want to cry because it wasn’t always easy, but that’s when my grandparents would encourage me and remind me that it was worth putting in the work.”
Montiel says from a very early age she was determined to experience the world outside of the Rio Grande Valley and would often dream about the day she would finally be able to leave for college as an adult. It was this drive to become the first in her family to go to college and experience different places that kept her focused when it came to her schooling.
“I am thankful that IDEA and my grandparents instilled a strong level of independence in me because this is what solidified my decision to go to college and keep pushing myself to succeed, even if that meant being out of my comfort zone.”
Montiel recalls her high school math teacher Ms. King sparking her interest in a potential career in engineering. With King’s encouragement and her grandparents’ blessing, she flew on a plane for the first time at 16 and traveled to Michigan Technological University for a summer engineering program for girls and fell in love.
Shortly before graduating from IDEA Donna in 2010, Montiel was named a recipient of the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship. Founded in 1999, the scholarship is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and offers students of color the opportunity to attend any college or university. As she was able to choose any school regardless of cost, Montiel ultimately chose Boston University (BU) for its rigorous engineering program and vibrant urban location.
“I wanted to choose a large city that was diverse and different from anything I was used to growing up in the Valley,” she says. “I had applied to a lot of out-of-state schools, and Boston just felt like the right city for me, and BU had a great engineering program.”
As a mechanical engineering major at Boston University, Montiel was surprised how difficult it felt to try and keep up for the first time in her life. In fact, she says that after her first year in Boston, she was ready to look for a school closer to home.
Montiel called her grandmother at the end of the year and told her she was considering moving back to Texas. However, both of her grandparents were adamant that she stick it out and finish what she started. She now says she is grateful for the encouragement as she learned to appreciate her time there.
After graduating from Boston University in 2014 and earning a master’s degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University in 2015, Montiel was ready to focus on a long-term career. She applied to Boeing at a career fair and was hired as an engineer in Charleston, SC, in February 2016.
Looking back, Montiel says that it was the people that made the biggest difference in her educational trajectory.
“My grandparents ensured that I was focused on succeeding and being independent and IDEA ensured that I was responsible and prepared for life,” she says. “Through it all, I was given the freedom to really follow my gut and not be afraid to try something new.”
Montiel says she is most proud of the fact that she was accepted to so many good schools, was able to graduate from college debt-free, and immediately began working at a great company.
“I want every first-generation college student to know that they are meant to be there,” she says. “You are just as qualified as everybody else that’s sitting in that classroom, no matter what their background is. You have each earned the right to pursue the life that you want.”