Alumna Spotlight: Tatem Rios

2019 Engineering graduate accepted by MIT Materials Science and Engineering PhD program

Tatem Rios, 22, graduated from Inver Hills Community College in 2019 with an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Engineering Fundamentals, a Transfer Pathway A.S. in Chemistry, and an Associate of Arts (A.A.). Tatem began her college career at Inver Hills at age 16 as a Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) student from East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minnesota. She graduated from East Ridge in 2018.

2019 Inver Hills Commencement

Today, Tatem, a first-generation college student, is earning her Bachelor of Chemical Engineering (B.Ch.E.) at the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering. She’s also minoring in Computer Science. She’s set to graduate with her B.Ch.E. in May 2022. Her academic goals are centered on earning a Ph.D. in Materials Science or Chemical Engineering.

Tatem credits PSEO as the launching pad for her studies at the U of M.

“My experience as a PSEO student gave me the opportunity to explore my career options before entering a university,” she said. “PSEO was a life-changing experience for me. I had the best instructors who encouraged me and really cared about my success. Inver Hills allowed me to get the ball rolling on my college career.”

Tatem added that the consistent support she received at Inver Hills helped build her confidence and find herself, which prepared her well for her transition to the U of M.

“If I had gone straight to a university, I don’t believe I would have received the support I needed and would have lost myself,” she related. “I am incredibly grateful for the experience I had at Inver Hills.”

Tatem recently received news that she has been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Materials Science and Engineering PhD program. She’s also been accepted to the following schools:

Northwestern University
>McCormick School of Engineering
>Materials Science & Engineering
>PhD program
University of Washington
>Chemical Engineering
>PhD program
Carnegie Mellon University
>Department of Materials Science and Engineering
>PhD program

Inver Hills Engineering faculty perspective…

“Tatem and I have stayed in touch since she graduated from Inver Hills. She has become a friend—and as much a mentor to me as I have ever been to her. She uses her time and energy to make a difference, advocating for improvements and positive changes.

“Tatem is working to raise awareness about PSEO and community colleges with the goal to increase access—all while progressing through Chemical Engineering and Computer Science at the U of M, where she is a senior. I look forward to seeing what this dynamo will do from here.”

Joan Carter, PE (MN, IA, CA)
Engineering Faculty
Inver Hills Community College
(above photo: Joan and Tatem from 2018 Annual Report)

Internships = work experience and connections

Tatem interning at ISurTec • SOURCE: College of Science & Engineering

Tatem works while going to the U of M as a lab technician at H. B. Fuller, a major American manufacturing company supplying industrial adhesives worldwide. She got her start at H. B. Fuller as a research and development (R & D) intern.

Tatem has taken full advantage of internship opportunities that have come her way. Tatem served as both an R & D intern and an analytical chemistry and QA/QC intern at Innovative Surface Technologies (ISurTec), a biotechnology company that researches, develops and manufactures coatings for medical devices. She landed those internships via the SciTech Internship Program.

Before ISurTec, she worked as an intern at SkyWater Technology Foundry, a Bloomington-based company specializing in custom technology development services and volume manufacturing for integrated circuits and micro devices.

“My advice is to get as much internship experience as you possibly can throughout your education,” Tatem said. “This will allow you to figure out what you really want to do when you graduate. A lot of times these internships can turn into full-time job offers after graduation. I’ve had a total of four different internship experiences during my undergraduate education and from those experiences I have been able to learn that pursuing a Ph.D., is the next step for me so that I can become a research & development engineer/scientist once I return to industry.”

For current engineering students at Inver Hills, Tatem suggests looking for an internship through SciTechMN. This is where she obtained her first internship, a very positive experience that played a pivotal role in her decision to pursue chemical engineering.

Tatem interning at ISurTec • SOURCE: ISurTec
Learn more about Tatem’s ISurTec internship experience by reading:
Tatem with fellow ISurTec interns • SOURCE: SciTech

“Interning with ISurTec: The Path to Workforce Security”

Scholarships pave the way

During the summer of 2020, Tatem was accepted into the ExxonMobil Latinos On Fast Track (LOFT) Fellowship program through the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF).  She is a Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholar—HSF empowers students and parents with the knowledge and resources to successfully complete their higher education goals.

Over the course of her academic career, Tatem has received more than 10 scholarships, including an Edward & Cora Remus Scholarship, Dr. Irving Pressley McPhail Endowed Scholarship, WAAIME Scholarship, Anna M. Kuhl Scholarship and Crystal Group Innovation Scholarship. In 2018, her submission won the Why Inver? Essay Contest Scholarship.

“Scholarships have been incredibly important for managing student debt,” Tatem said. “I have been funding my own college education and the support of scholarships has been life changing. They allow me to focus on my studies instead of stressing out about how I will pay my next tuition bill.”

Tatem reported that without the financial support of scholarships, she would have had to take a break from her studies to save money. Throughout her higher education journey, she has applied for more than 100 scholarships.

“I will be graduating from the University of Minnesota debt free,” she said. “My advice to students is to apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can. I’ve spent many hours searching the internet for scholarships and writing essays and it has paid off in the end. Stay persistent and don’t give up. Create a spreadsheet for all the scholarships you qualify for and list out the deadlines to keep you on track.”

More about Engineering at Inver Hills…

The Engineering department at Inver Hills stands out as a wise starting point if you are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil, electrical or mechanical engineering at the following universities:

University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD)
St. Cloud State University
University of St. Thomas
Minnesota State University, Mankato
>Mankato and Twin Cities Engineering programs

Degree option

Associate of Science (A.S.) in Engineering Fundamentals — 60 credits

By earning your A.S. in Engineering Fundamentals at Inver Hills, you will be prepared for transfer with junior-year status to a four-year college or university to complete your bachelor’s degree. Your two-year foundation will allow you to select your specialization from a wide range of engineering branches.

The program covers courses typically offered in freshman and sophomore years of an accredited engineering curriculum in the United States. As an Inver Hills engineering student, you should stay informed regarding the rules and requirements of the engineering department at the four-year college or university where you plan to transfer.

Visit Engineering to learn more.

More about Chemistry at Inver Hills…

Often praised as the central science, chemistry serves as a bridge between other physical sciences, including biology, geology and physics. Chemistry is the study of matter, or the substance of physical objects, with a focus on composition, structure, properties, and change.

The Chemistry department at Inver Hills offers specialized and general courses—all with laboratory—that meet the requirements for two-year and four-year degrees in the physical and life sciences, including nursing.

Chemistry Transfer Pathway Associate of Science (A.S.) – 60 credits

The Chemistry Transfer Pathway A.S. offers you a powerful option: the opportunity to complete your associate degree with course credits that directly transfer to designated chemistry bachelor’s degree programs at Minnesota State universities.

With this transfer pathway, you will be able to transfer with junior-year status to the following designated baccalaureate degree majors:

Bemidji State University: Chemistry: B.S. –  B.A.
Metropolitan State University: Chemistry: B.S.
Minnesota State University, Mankato: Chemistry: B.S. • ACS-approved
Minnesota State University, Moorhead: Chemistry: B.S. – B.A.
Southwest Minnesota State University: Chemistry: B.A.
St. Cloud State University: Chemistry: B.S. • ACS-approved
Winona State University
>Chemistry: B.S.
>ACS Environmental Chemistry: B.S.
>ACS Materials Chemistry: B.S.

Visit Chemistry to learn more.

Engagement and volunteerism make all the difference

Tatem at Engineering Club meeting in 2018

During her time as a student at Inver Hills, Tatem served as a mathematics and chemistry peer tutor.  She also served as Engineering Club president and the college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter vice president of scholarship.

“While I was the president of the Engineering Club, I organized club meetings and did outreach to grow the club,” she said. “I created posters and visited classrooms to encourage students to join and learn more about engineering. I wanted to connect as many students as I could to engineering, and the club ended up becoming the biggest one on campus. The club was a fun friendly place for students to learn and connect.”

Tatem noted that her PTK vice president duties focused on informing students about scholarship opportunities within the organization. “I also did outreach to recruit new students to PTK by making promotional videos,” she said. “My fellow club officers and I worked to enhance the campus experience for all students.”

Tatem is still connected to Inver Hills through her work as a member of the college’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 2020 during Student Success Day, she spoke and answered student questions as a member of an alumni panel tasked with sharing advice on how to make the most out of the community college experience.

“The following year, I attended Student Success Day and spoke to students about engineering and the benefits of transferring from Inver Hills to a four-year university,” Tatem said.

Tatem’s other volunteer activities include serving as an ambassador for the SciTech Internship Program. In 2021, she testified before the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee to voice the importance of the program. The previous year, she testified before the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

As a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Tatem helps raise awareness, provide access, and prepare Hispanic students and professionals to become leaders in the STEM field.

“This past November, we traveled to the 2021 SHPE National Convention in Orlando, Florida,” Tatem said, “and I was incredibly excited to have opportunities to engage in networking events, talk to graduate schools, and participate in career development sessions.”

Tatem Rios Q & A

What do you love most about studying chemical engineering?

I love that there are so many applications in chemical engineering. Every time I go to the store, I look around and appreciate that every item on the shelf involved chemical engineers. Every item that is produced in large quantities required a chemical engineer to design the process to manufacture it. Chemical engineers can also work on the development of new products in a laboratory setting. They use their expertise to rationalize whether certain products could be scaled up and produced in an industrial setting. There are so many industries to work in, for example, I have had the opportunity to work in the medical device, adhesives, and semiconductor industry.

Why did you choose computer science as your minor at the U of M?

I chose to study computer science because I believe that every engineer should have a background in coding. I have used my coding knowledge in all my internships, and it can really make work a lot easier. For example, during one of my internships I worked on a project to develop a dynamic dashboard to increase the efficiency of layer matching on an optical metrology toolset using Python, Flask, HTML and CSS. I’ve also used Python to clean up a database and to write protocols for a pipetting robot. I have plans to do research in machine learning in graduate school, which requires background knowledge in coding.

Three words that describe you as a future chemical engineer:

What do you enjoy most about your participation in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)?

I really enjoy the community that SHPE has provided to me. We are all very supportive of each other and we are a familia. Through SHPE, I have had the opportunity to attend national conventions. Last year during the virtual convention, I attended a graduate student panel and connected with a SHPE member named Adrian Davíla. He provided incredibly insightful advice for students interested in pursuing graduate school.

A year later, I reached out to him asking for advice on applying to graduate school and he agreed to meet with me. He then went above and beyond and offered to mentor me throughout the whole process and set up weekly meetings to keep me on track. These weekly meetings quickly turned into work sessions that occur four to five days a week, and he has put me in contact with amazing people that support me. I am just so grateful for this community.

Why should alumni stay engaged with their college or university after they graduate?

Alumni should stay engaged with their college after graduation because they can put themselves into the shoes of the current students and really understand how to help them succeed. They can use their voice to help current students navigate the college experience and can also provide insight on career opportunities after college. I’ve been involved by holding a position on the Alumni Association Board and volunteering my time during Student Success Day.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

Joan Carter changed my life. She really inspired and motivated me to pursue a career in engineering. I wouldn’t have taken this path if it wasn’t for her. I am so incredibly grateful for the relationship that we have. She has been such a great mentor and influence on me. Her support allowed me to gain confidence in my abilities and believe in myself. Even after leaving Inver Hills, she has been there for me. I hope to make an impact on others like Joan has made on me.

Joan and Tatem at Kick Off 2018
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

In 20 years, I see myself working in industry as a research and development engineer developing new high performance materials using machine learning. I plan to start my own scholarship fund and use my voice to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Once I am finished working in industry, I plan to teach at a community college and connect with students just like Joan connected with me.

Tatem Rios 12 Answers

  1. Favorite song you’ve heard lately: “Worth It” by Amber Mark
  2. Wilderness area on the planet you would most like to visit: Jiuzhaigou National Park, China
  3. Most challenging thing you’ve ever done: Figuring out how to finance my education
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Provide scholarships for Inver Hills Students 2) Start an initiative to provide full financial support to high achieving underrepresented students in pursuing a degree in STEM 3) Go to Mexico and give back to the community where my family lives
  5. Industry you would most like to excel in R & D activities: Consumer products           
  6. Time period you would explore if you could time travel: 2010 to invest in bitcoin
  7. One thing you want to accomplish ASAP: Finish my application for the NSF graduate research fellowship program
  8. Your national mammal if you were your own country: Honey badger
  9. Dream hobby: Backpacking all over the world
  10. Musical instrument you would most like to learn and master: Piano
  11. Weirdest thing in the world: Blobfish
  12. Most wonderful thing in the world: Scholarship donors
Learn more about Engineering Fundamentals at Inver Hills by contacting:

Joan Carter, PE (MN, IA, CA)
Engineering Faculty

Learn more about Chemistry at Inver Hills by contacting:

Adam Prowatzke
Chemistry Faculty

Learn more about earning an Associate of Arts (A.A.), the #1 transfer degree at Inver Hills, by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

You can learn more about Tatem Rios by reading:
Tatem Rios
Tatem Rios

Tatem Rios: Community College, PSEO, and STEM Advocate

“Community College Changed My Life” by Tatem Rios for Road2College

“Tatem Rios faces adversity—and finds her calling in CSE while overcoming it” by Kathryn Richner for the U of M College of Science & Engineering

“SciTech interns boost future of Minnesota economy” by Neal St. Anthony for the Star Tribune

“Why Inver? Essay Scholarship Contest” on Inver Hills News

2019 Inver Hills Commencement

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