As a Latina in engineering, Roxana Meza is accustomed to forging her own path—a path that eventually led her to becoming a chemical engineer based out of Barr’s Denver, Colorado office. Here, Roxana talks more about the journey that has shaped her, some of the challenges she’s faced, and what she loves most about her career.
Did you always want to be a chemical engineer? What motivated you to pursue a career in engineering?
When I researched chemical engineering as a career, I realized how versatile it is. You can go into oil and gas (which I did) or process engineering, water quality, or research—and I liked having options.
I wanted to work in STEM ever since I was a little girl. Numbers always made sense to me because they’re black and white and appeal to my very organized brain. A few of my high school teachers were monumental in helping guide me toward engineering. My math teachers suggested I look into the Colorado School of Mines. At the time, I was taking AP Chemistry and really liked it, so I started looking at chemical engineering. When I researched chemical engineering as a career, I realized how versatile it is. You can go into oil and gas (which I did) or process engineering, water quality, or research—and I liked having options.
A career in STEM also has job security, which was important to me as a first-generation college student. From a young age, I knew I wanted to have the resources to take care of my parents when I was older.
What barriers have you encountered in the pursuit of your career, and how have you overcome them?
I didn’t have anybody in my life who was an engineer or had even gone to college. It was difficult trying to figure out the process and how to navigate college life, and eventually professional life, when I didn’t come from a background that exposed me to those things. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had some great mentors and friends who helped me along the way. I also learned a lot by my own discipline and determination. I got used to paving the way and asking the questions needed to feel more comfortable leading. If I didn’t understand something, I would find a school counselor or teacher or take to the internet and look for the answers there.
What does your day-to-day life look like at Barr?
I’m mostly involved in air permitting and compliance work for oil and gas clients, but my day-to-day responsibilities change. I have some long-term client projects for which I monitor facilities and help with permit modifications and renewals. My knowledge of their equipment, facility setup, and throughputs allow me to calculate their current emissions, which helps determine the type of permitting action needed. After the permit is secured, I track emissions as well to ensure compliance. I also get involved in larger permitting projects such as those that involve Title V facilities, which can be complex because Colorado’s regulations are constantly changing.
What new challenges do you see emerging for your clients? How do you help navigate them?
With Colorado’s constantly changing regulations, it’s a matter of staying on top of what’s coming next. We try to attend state meetings and are involved with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), which is in constant communication with the state, so we can start thinking early on about how changing regulations might affect our clients.
For example, there’s now testing requirements for some of our clients’ emission control devices (ECDs), so the need for stack testing is increasing. Stack testing companies are going to be overwhelmed, opening up an opportunity for Barr to step in and assist our clients.
What does working at Barr mean to you?
Working at Barr in Denver means the opportunity to participate in building something new. . . . Here, you can help steer the boat and make an impact in a new community.
Working at Barr in Denver means the opportunity to participate in building something new. We have a great reputation in the Midwest, and we are growing in the Rocky Mountain Region. Here, you can help steer the boat and make an impact in a new community—that’s important to me. I’m already seeing Barr gain more recognition in Denver, and I’m excited for the company’s future in the area.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy taking my client’s problems—problems that seem super complex—and breaking them down into steps to help solve them. I like looking back at the end of a project and seeing how far we’ve come, how much more we understand, and how the process we put in place will help them adhere and comply to regulations, regardless of how many facilities they have. I also absolutely love the people I work with. That is a huge part of why I love Barr and the Denver office—we have such an amazing and supportive community.
What has your experience been like as a Latina in engineering?
I didn’t know any Latinos in engineering when I was starting out—and I still don’t know enough! I got used to not only being the only woman in the room but being the only woman of color in the room. I quickly learned how to code switch because I didn’t understand the spaces I was existing in, and they didn’t understand me. I sought out community when I could, at organizations like the Multicultural Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines. I found other students that shared my background, and it made a world of difference.
I spent the first four-and-a-half years after college working in the oil field, where there’s not traditionally a lot of women. Once again, I was often the only woman and woman of color in the room—and I was far from home. It was difficult at times in a mostly male environment, and people weren’t used to seeing someone like me out there. I learned how to advocate for myself through this experience, which gave me strength.
What advice would you give to a young woman of color studying engineering in school or starting their career?
My biggest piece of advice would be to find community. For example, I wouldn’t have made it through school without the Multicultural Engineering Program. Most colleges have some great organizations and support groups, so I suggest trying them out until you find the right one. At work, look for a coworker or a mentor you trust and form community with them. Once you find your people, it’s unreal how much support you receive.
What motivates you to succeed?
I work hard knowing my parents made a huge sacrifice coming to the United States so my sister and I could have the opportunities they didn’t. I try to keep that in mind and make them and my ancestors proud. That’s ultimately what drives me.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’ve hiked Pikes Peak twice. I grew up in Colorado Springs and this had always been a goal of mine. A few years ago, I did it with my friends. Then my dad got jealous, so the next summer I did it with him. Now I’ve conquered the mountain I grew up staring at every day.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like taking long walks to clear my brain. Being outside refreshes me. If I’m not outdoors, I’m hanging out with my cats, playing with them, and obsessing over them. I enjoy cozying up with the cats and my partner John for a movie. We built them a catio (cat patio), so I also like to spend time with them in said catio.
Interested in joining the Barr team? Check out our open positions.
About the author
Roxana Meza, chemical engineer, has 10 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, including four years in hydraulic fracturing as a field engineer and two years in water treatment and water quality. She has worked with various oil and gas clients both in the field and providing office support. At Barr, Roxana assists clients with environmental permitting and compliance as well as database management.
Image gallery (below):
Roxana celebrating after summitting Pikes Peak, the mountain she grew up looking at every day.
Appreciating all Colorado has to offer, Roxana hits the slopes in Vail, Colorado.
Taking a sunrise trail run in Morrison, Colorado, one of Roxana's favorite places to go with amazing trails and views.
Spending time at her favorite place, The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.
Roxana and a friend climbing Grays and Torreys Peak in Colorado, twin fourteeners (mountain peaks with elevations of at least 14,000 feet).
Enjoying the outdoors in snowshoes.
Roxana's first visit to Machu Picchu in southern Peru in the summer of 2019.
Roxana with her 13-year-old ragdoll cat Charlie.