She has a penchant for dad jokes, adventurous hikes and twisting her ankle. “Literally every single time I go hiking, I sprain my ankle,” says Claudia Flores. But even as she limped through UCI, the first-gen transfer student managed to help lead the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the chassis, body and ergonomics squad on UCI’s Baja racing team. In her spare time, Flores loves going to church, singing and socializing with friends. She grew up in Santa Clarita, moved to Palmdale about 15 years ago, and graduated from Palmdale High School and College of the Canyons before heading to UCI.
What is your favorite memory at UCI?
An all-nighter with friends that had nothing to do with studying. It started around 5 p.m. on the last day of winter-quarter finals in 2020. I had recently been elected as director of operations for UCI’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the club’s old and new executive boards were meeting to plan out the spring quarter. Five hours later, when the meeting ended, a few of us had the bright idea to get food and watch three movies in a row in the lounge. The movies were “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “A Haunted House” and “The Package,” and we laughed the whole time. Now it’s almost 4 a.m., and like typical Anteaters, we thought, “Let’s go to Seaside Donuts Bakery.” We were chilling on the sand when two of our friends decided to run into the water, and yes, I have it on video. I took pictures throughout the night, and some still pop up as memories on my phone, which is pretty nostalgic. After that, some of the group went home. The rest of us, however, were like, “It’s almost 6 a.m.; we can watch the sunrise.” So after picking up a few more friends, we hiked up Turtle Rock Trail. It was really nice to see the views and to do it with friends. Unfortunately, some snaily souls were accidentally crushed on that mountain, but we made a funeral for them. We stayed up there for about an hour, took pictures, played around and then got breakfast to go at a diner, and everyone went home. To start the morning, I may or may not have fallen asleep eating my food, but it was delicious.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’m applying for an internship to get more experience in different aspects of engineering. I eventually want to work for a company that incorporates most, if not all, of my passions. I’ll live wherever my future job is located, but I want to stay in the So Cal area as long as possible. And before any of that, I will take some time to travel to different states and possibly revisit El Salvador and another country. Hiking is a must, so I’ll definitely be making a trip back to Wyoming to enjoy the areas I didn’t get to last time. I want to soak it all in before the time comes when my busy schedule won’t let me.
“Claudia is a great student who cares about her work and the people around her. She led a large number of students through online courses and encouraged them to work hard and keep their spirits up. I am confident that her leadership and strong desire to help others will enable her to achieve amazing things as an engineer who puts the safety of the public above all else.”
– Kenya Verduzco, a 2021 UCI engineering alumna who mentored Flores in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
Where do you see yourself in five years?
With so much going on in my life and plans that sometimes change week to week, envisioning where I’ll be in five years is challenging. But I do my fair share of daydreaming about it. My career dream is to work at a company on projects that encompass civil, automotive or aerospace engineering, the three areas most closely related to my mechanical engineering studies. Romantically, I wouldn’t mind having the love of my life by my side, on our way to becoming successful professionals. I see myself spending more time with family and making the most of the moments I have with them, especially when we go to church. I still plan on telling jokes, no question about it. And, quite possibly, I may get started on a teaching credential, as I one day want to teach high school. God only knows how it might turn out, but no matter what, I’ll be happy.
Who was your biggest influence at UCI?
My friends in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. SHPE is literally how I found my home away from home. I’ve gained some incredible friendships and professional connections that I’m sure will last a lifetime. My friends keep me in check and support me whenever I need it. Being far away from family, they understand the hardships of being an independent, first-gen student studying engineering. Having to work so hard for our goals and always striving to be better are a few of the characteristics we all have in common. They helped me grow as a person and as a leader.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before coming to UCI?
As a transfer student, I was already exposed to some form of college life. I commuted 2.5 hours each day, went to classes, joined a club (SHPE), went to the bookstore, had my talk with administration, and ate my food whenever I could. But at UCI, the dynamic was 10 times more hectic. Looking back, I wish I knew where the best places to live on campus were, which clubs I should join, and that teaching assistants are there to help you and not just grade your work. I also wish I’d known more about the resources on campus for people like me: a first-gen, low-income Hispanic woman majoring in engineering. But I’m grateful for my experience because it led me to where I am today: a soon-to-be alumna.