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  • Writer's pictureAna María Vázquez-Catoni

Meet Dr. Marietta Marcano, Systems Optimization Engineer at Bayer Crop Science

Adapting to adversity, Marietta develops solutions to agricultural challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Dr. Marietta Marcano is a Systems Optimization Engineer, where her main role is to optimize projects with new technologies at Bayer Crop Science in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico.

From an early age, Marietta always had a passion for science, thanks to the educational opportunities provided by her mother, Sonia González, who was a physics teacher. Marietta was exposed to science fairs, educational trips, and clubs dedicated to topics like astronomy and environmental science. As a result, her interests in science and mathematics led her to consider studying engineering. Before starting college, she participated in the Pre-Engineering Summer Camp, which allowed her to explore various fields of engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez (UPRM). Later, she decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the same university.

Engineering and the Environment

During her bachelor's degree, Marietta participated in an internship with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she worked on a project focused on environmental remediation. This project sparked Marietta's interest in environmental impact, leading her to decide to pursue her doctoral studies in environmental engineering.

Subsequently, Marietta began graduate studies at UPRM and received a scholarship called the "Bridge to the Doctorate Program”. This scholarship allowed Marietta to complete a Ph.D. in civil engineering with a specialization in environmental engineering and a focus on remediation. Marietta's doctoral project involved the design of porous titanosilicates for air purification in closed systems, specifically for the capture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and methane, in collaboration with NASA under the guidance of Professor Arturo Hernández Maldonado. In summary, Marietta holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering, with a project associated with chemical engineering, demonstrating her adaptability in different engineering fields.

Using Engineering to Solve Agricultural Problems

After completing her Ph.D., Marietta began working at Monsanto, now Bayer Crop Science, in Juana Díaz. "Despite not having studied agriculture, growing up in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, I was familiar with the agrobiotechnology industry." However, in her role as "Greenhouse Automation Lead and Agronomy," Marietta felt a bit out of her comfort zone in terms of the agronomic focus. Nevertheless, she worked on greenhouse design projects, some as large as 4 acres, and seed processing. Eventually, she became the manager of a group of nearly 50 people. Marietta was able to develop her skills in various areas. According to Marietta, in her role, it is crucial to understand the importance of optimization and how automation can bring more food to the market more efficiently.

"When you learn science, you learn how to think and solve problems. You acquire tools that help you understand the world around you. That was my focus, and that's why I'm open to working in the field of agriculture because it's a field where science is applied, and where you can contribute and help."

Being an Engineer in a Male-Dominated Field

"The gender issue is always present because when someone talks about an engineer, they expect to see a male engineer. But when someone like me, who is 5'2" and doesn't fit the stereotype of a mechanical engineer or environmental engineer that people expect to see, many tend to question their credibility or think it's not a good fit."

Over time, Marietta has experienced biases in the workplace. As she advanced in her career, she faced challenges in terms of communication and being heard. She initially adopted a more assertive and rigid approach to emphasize her credibility. However, she realized it wasn't necessary and sought ways to feel more comfortable in her job without conforming to others' expectations.

Marietta emphasizes the importance of always being authentic in all the spaces we occupy, not losing sight of who we are, and recognizing and celebrating what we bring as women in these fields.

"It's not only about deciding to bring our full personality to work because we are different in different environments, but what matters is what we can contribute from our unique perspective, especially as women. This diversifies and enriches the field, providing a different perspective and way of working."

Marietta is grateful for her work environment at Bayer, stating that it is an inclusive company that promotes programs highlighting the participation and contributions of women and other diverse groups.

The importance of engineering in agriculture

Marietta emphasizes that, with the global food crisis, it is more important than ever to work on agricultural technology because the ability to provide healthy food to people is crucial.

"When we talk about agriculture, it's not just about food but also about crops for fuels and textiles. What we plant and grow serves multiple purposes and is directly related to fundamental aspects of human life, such as having a place to live, clothing, and sustenance. From my environmental perspective, considering the environmental challenges we currently face, we need to find ways to do more with less. With climate change and increasingly scarce resources, we must seek technological solutions and harness human ingenuity to overcome these challenges. When I speak of technology, I'm especially referring to genetic technology. We create technological tools that allow us to improve crop performance, make them more resilient, and adapt to different environments. However, we also need to find ways to expedite the availability of these products in the market and reach as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. This is why knowledge of efficiency, machinery, technology, programming, computer use, GPS, drones, etc., is important. These advances enable us to advance agricultural production and do more with fewer resources. If we think about agriculture in the past, it was difficult and often unpredictable. Now, with all these technologies, we can be more prescriptive and achieve higher yields. Engineering is key to achieving this, as it involves thinking of solutions and using technology to make quick decisions."

In the end, interdisciplinary collaboration is a fundamental aspect of addressing these challenges.

Marietta's advice for the new generation of women starting their path in agriculture or any career is to explore...

"Nurture yourselves with diverse experiences. Don't be afraid to venture into different fields and learn from them. The path is not always straight, but by exploring and exposing yourself to various areas, you can discover passions and apply knowledge interdisciplinary."

Marietta in Her Free Time

Marietta is a multifaceted woman. She is active in her community as a Jehovah's Witness, especially working on volunteer projects in the field of mechanical engineering. During the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Marietta assisted in home recovery and remodeling places of worship. Marietta loves to travel, read, exercise, knit, paint, do journaling, and cook.



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