Can you tell me about your academic and professional background and experience?
I am a marine engineer. I went to school at Texas A&M in Galveston. Since I knew I didn’t want to ship out, I didn’t take the license option to go to sea. I decided I would work in shipyards or ship design, and that’s what I did.
Actually, my original passion and major was marine biology and I had won a scholarship to study that. But back in 1982 in Panama, marine biology was not a career that would take me where I wanted to go. That’s when I switched to marine engineering. I just wanted to be by the water – that was my driving force. When I came back to Panama after graduation, I got a job at the Panama Canal in the shipyard, which was perfect as that’s exactly what I had studied. I worked in the shipyard for about four and a half years.
Within the Canal, I have had many, many functions. I’ve worked here since 1985 and the Canal is big with about 10,000 employees. There was a small newspaper where you could apply for jobs within the authority to move around, so I applied for a job in the dredging division, and then worked there for about two years. Then I applied for a job as a mechanical engineer in the design office and I was there for four years. After that I became a valuation engineer in accounting, followed by a job as capital investment coordinator for the maritime operations department which was the biggest department at the time. After working there, I got a call in 2002 from the then deputy administrator – which is the role I have now – to participate in the development of a masterplan to create the expansion programme. That lasted till 2019, when I moved over to head the operations of the Panama Canal, which is the biggest vice presidency. I was the first woman to be Vice President for Engineering, the first woman to be Vice President for Operations and then, since January of this year, the first woman Deputy Administrator. In a nutshell that’s my career. It’s been pretty amazing.
During your remarkable career, who has inspired you?
My original inspiration was Jacques Cousteau. It was he that caught my imagination. I started scuba diving when I was 16 and told everyone I wanted to be a marine biologist. Realistically marine biology wasn’t feasible then in Panama, but I found something that would keep me by the water. Besides Cousteau, my parents inspired me by their work ethic, their dedication and commitment.