Today, Nadya Fogarty is employed as an insurance marketing analyst for an internet company. A little while ago, she was a twenty-something in Bulgaria with no plans to come to the U.S. But Fogarty is the kind of person who tries surfing on a whim. “Any opportunity I have to see or do something new, I go for it,” she said. This unofficial rule has served as her internal compass, guiding her on her journey from making hotel beds to studying engineering.

Despite her adventurous spirit, Fogarty knows that “going for it” can be lonely and intimidating. She first arrived nine years ago, at the urging of friends, to work at a North Carolina resort for the summer. “It was like coming to pretty much another planet for me,” she said. Knowing no English, she learned to speak it by watching TV, listening to music, and talking to everyone she could.

The next summer she returned on another J-1 visa; ended up working as a Starbuck’s barista in Vail, Colorado; met her husband, Brian, and decided to stay. After five years at Starbuck’s she was a multi-store manager. Relocating to Chicago for Brian’s job, she found support—and all of her favorite foods—in the city’s thriving Bulgarian community.

After an initial stint at a community college doing prerequisites, Fogarty found a perfect fit at UIC’s College of Engineering. “I knew I wanted to do something with math, and engineering is way more exciting, I think, than accounting,” she said. Long talks with professors, job shadowing, and internships at GE Transportation and Kraft Foods solidified her decision to specialize in industrial engineering.

On campus, she joined other students in UIC’s chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).

While at UIC, Fogarty helped other students navigate their journeys and challenges. As the treasurer for SWE, the IIE Vice President, and a mentor for WISE, she promoted the organizations that made her feel welcome far from home. The nonnative-turned-tour-guide worked to counsel students, especially women studying in the male-dominated field and students new to UIC, to the U.S., or both. “I know how important it is to have people who can give you advice or even just listen to you,” she said, “so it was time for me to give back.”


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