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I Am L3Harris - Anya Soberano

29/08/2022

At 2 years old, I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss and started wearing analog hearing aids bilaterally. My small hometown of Bacolod City, Philippines, offered limited resources for children with hearing loss, so my mother and I traveled to lloilo City by ferryboat so I could receive oral-verbal approach therapy. These trips took two hours each way, and we traveled three times a week for three years.

I enrolled in mainstream school in the Philippines. I didn't earn good grades - except for in math and science. Both my father and grandfather were mechanical engineers. My father worked outside the country and was always away from home, so my grandfather served as a father figure to me. Growing up, I watched my grandfather fix his vehicles and anything in the house that needed repairs. I inherited his passion for fixing things and problem solving. My mother was a nurse who wanted to further her career and provide me with the opportunity to receive cochlear implants that would help my hearing. She saw opportunity to achieve both dreams in America.

We moved to Minnesota in 2006 when I was 8 years old. I vividly remember my first day of elementary school. I had difficulty hearing and understanding the teacher and my classmates. I would imitate my classmates movements and follow along with what they were doing and where they went. I did not make friends on the playground because I spoke very little English and was very shy. It was overwhelming and a huge adjustment for me.

Later, I received bilateral cochlear implants - it took five surgeries over the course of two years. I continued to attend mainstream school and had a teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who patiently supported me and helped me develop my writing and speaking skills. She also taught me some basic sign language so I could communicate with other Deaf people. In high school, she introduced me to live captioning, which I found to be a very useful tool for my education. A captionist would attend classes with me and type the lessons my teacher was lecturing on into the computer.

By the time I turned 11 years old, my English started to improve. Throughout my schooling, my mother continued taking me to speech therapy weekly - we didn't have to travel by ferryboat in America! In my junior year of high school, my teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing students encouraged me to visit the Rochester Institute for Technology (RIT), a mainstream university known as a world leader for deaf education. I later applied and was accepted - my journey to becoming an engineer had begun.

My freshman year at RIT felt overwhelming, as I knew very little sign language. I met a lot of Deaf students in my dorm and around campus who could sign fast. One day, the captionist was not able to cover my lab class and they assigned an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter instead. I only understood a few ASL terms and struggled to understand interpreters, so I joined the Deaf club to improve my ASL communication skills. I also worked as a math tutor supporting Deaf students and as an engineering desk assistant for three years. This is how I was able to pick up ASL faster than I had in high school! My electronics professor, who is deaf, became my mentor. She provided me with advice and networking opportunities and introduced me to new technologies to help me communicate. The networking skills I developed at RIT led to an internship with NASA in 2019. One of my mentors during this internship was also a deaf female engineer.

A year later, I interned at L3Harris, and after graduating from RIT in 2020, I was offered a full-time position with the company. I am proud to now be working as an Associate Integration and Test Engineer, supporting various programs, software development, systems integration and LabVIEW tasks. I am the only deaf engineer in my department, and my colleagues have been amazing! Despite my hearing loss, I always find ways to overcome obstacles at work - whether I'm visually following along with my colleagues or using Microsoft Teams' chat feature. I can lipread, but not 100% of the time, so communication can sometimes be challenging. But throughout my life, I have always found ways to overcome challenges.

I have come a long way from being a deaf kid in a small town in the Philippines. I am humbled that I was provided the opportunity to live in America and began my engineering career with a great company. I am thankful for my mentors and colleagues who continue to teach, support and encourage me with patience and understanding. We Deaf people can be just as successful as anyone else. To others who may face similar challenges in life - don't be afraid to ask for help, and never give up. Keep going and keep thriving!
LINK: https://www.l3harris.com/newsroom/editorial/2022/08/i-am-l3harris-anya...
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