Monique Renee Curley, who recently graduated with her Master of Engineering this past summer, is a born and raised Burqueña with a story of persistence.
“I’m convinced that anyone can do anything. I wasn’t born with the greatest of resources, but I did what I had to do to seek them out and make them my own,” she said. “I’ve pursued my childhood interest in science and trained myself along the way to become a scientist. You can do anything you want, but you have to want it enough.”
Curley said her mother had a drug problem dating back to her teens — putting her in a place where she was unable to care for Curley as an infant — and her father left soon after she was born.
“Growing up, I was fortunate to have been surrounded by many strong women in my family who helped to instill in me the strength and tenacity to accomplish my dreams,” she said. “I was also fortunate to have had many teachers along the way who opened my eyes to the world.”
Curley said she has battled depression and endometriosis starting in her teenage years, often making it difficult to concentrate on educational work, triggering poor grades and requiring her to repeat courses.
“It would seem to some that such failures would cause an increase in depression, but for me it was a chance to wipe the slate clean and make for a better result,” she said. “In the end I was proud of myself for having continued and making everything right.”
Endometriosis is a disease that runs in her family, Curley said. She was diagnosed nine years before she entered her graduate program, when she was able to receive health insurance through UNM and utilize the Student Health Center.
Curley said she remembers many days when the excruciating pain would leave her bed-ridden.
“So I sought out the resources necessary to alleviate my depression (and) make for a more successful graduate career. I was able to explore many medications and treatment options to manage my endometriosis,” said Curley, who has been symptom-free for seven months. “It took two years to finally find a treatment option that worked.”
Most of Curley’s family lives in the rural northern part of the state, descending from tradesmen and those with military involvement.
Curley said she views her career in science as a natural progression stemming from childhood pursuits in science and mathematics.
“As no one in my family had pursued the track to college, I spent a lot of time researching scholarship opportunities on my own and applying to colleges while I was in high school,” she said. “I knew that I was born to be a scientist and sought out the resources required to achieve my goals.”
Curley worked three jobs to make ends meet as an undergraduate, working two of them on campus as a teaching assistant and a research assistant in the Chemistry Department.
Outside of UNM, she delivered donuts for a local shop to gas stations and hotels, starting her shifts at 2:30 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m.
“These three jobs paid for rent and other bills as well as my college tuition. During this time, I was also a volunteer assistant instructor at a local kung fu school,” she said, adding that time management skills were absolutely necessary.
Curley said the foundation of her interest in science was fostered by teachers who nurtured her natural interest in science.
She conducted her graduate research in heterogeneous catalysis, specifically advancing the efficiency of automotive catalytic converters.
“I am hoping to find a position in which I can continue to grow in my knowledge and expertise in the field of nanotechnology, materials science or chemical engineering,” she said.
Although she recently graduated in June, Curley said she has been actively pursuing employment since May, but to no avail.
“I’ve learned a lot about my own strength and diligence in pursuing this career path. It has shown me that anyone can accomplish anything if they are willing to put forth the effort,” she said. “If you have a vision for your life, you need to go out into the world and make it reality.”
For students having a hard time, Curley said if you are serious about obtaining a college degree, remember to never ever give up.
“Life may give you some bumps in the road and interrupt your plan, but you can get back on track,” she said. “You can do this, but you have to be willing to put forth the effort.”
Sarah Trujillo is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @sarahtweets_abq.