Guided by their faith, Ileana and Estela Valdez use talent and technology to create a better world
By Violeta Rocha
Special to The Texas Catholic
Though she lives 2,000 miles away from Dallas, Ileana Valdez never forgets the life lessons she learned from her mother, Estela.
Since the days of her childhood, technology and the love for engineering have been passions that Ileana has nurtured with her mother’s help and inspiration. That passion keeps them even closer today while she resides in Seattle, working for a cybersecurity company.
Not a day goes by that mother and daughter don’t share a text or video call. Technology has always played a key role in their lives and is a special interest that has taken them far.
Ileana, 22, is an alumna of St. Cecilia Catholic School, who went on to earn a degree in computer engineering from Yale University.
Meanwhile her mother received a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Math and Computer Science) from the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, and a master’s degree in Education/Curriculum Instruction: Technology from Grand Canyon University.
Estela has taught for more than 20 years, holds a certificate in science training from Perot STEM Teacher Institute in Dallas and a Catholic School Leadership certificate through Creighton University.
Estela was also recognized in 2021 as the HALO Initiative Educator of the year by the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools Office.
Never Give Up
Ileana said the advice she values the most from her mother has become her personal motto.
“My mom will always say: ‘don’t give up,’ ” she said.
A native of Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city just south of El Paso, Estela was the first woman in her family to graduate from college.
“She doesn’t let anyone tell her that she can’t accomplish anything,” Ileana said of Estela. “I really admire her determination to get ahead.”
Being successful as a young Hispanic woman in a field traditionally dominated by men is a triumph that Ileana attributes to her mother’s example.
“I have always felt that she was the smartest lady in the world and I wanted to be like her,” Ileana explained. “My mom taught me that with faith in God and hard work, I would be able to become a manager, a doctor, an engineer or whatever I wanted.”
The seeds of Estela’s teaching didn’t take long to blossom in Ileana.
In the spring of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Ileana and her older brother, Jorge, also a computer engineer, created an online dating platform for college students.
Two years later, in March 2022, Ileana was recognized by the State Department and the United Nations as a successful woman in Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) produced a documentary about her career and inspiring role for new generations of young Hispanic women.
“Thanks to my mom, I never doubted the place that a Latina can have in the field of science,” she said. “I spent my whole life working hard because I wanted to get ahead, and even though there were days when college felt like forever, I didn’t give up. I kept going; it paid forward” she added.
A Faithful Path
In 2017 when Ileana left Dallas to go to Yale University in New Haven, Conn., her mother felt confident knowing that she was raised with a solid Catholic foundation.
“Thanks to Ileana’s Catholic upbringing it has become easier for her to distinguish between right and wrong,” Valdez said. “Those principles have helped her focus on her goal and ignore distractions. Without the guidance of God, nothing would have been possible.”
Educating her children under the protection of the Church was always a goal for the marriage of Estela and Jorge Valdez.
Ileana, Jorge and her younger sister Victoria have all been educated with the support of the Catholic faith.
“God always provides the means and the right path, you just have to be attentive,” Estela stressed. “Without Him, nothing would have been easy for us.”
Following God’s plan, Estela decided to focus on caring for her children once she became a mother. Then she felt a call to teaching.
Contrary to overshadowing her talent and experience, the formation of new generations of students, particularly those in the Hispanic community served by St. Cecilia, in STEM has made Valdez an icon of pride among her family and school community. Among them, Ileana is her proudest fan.
“My mom started a TAG program at St. Cecilia and has taught children how to use 3D printers,” she explained. “She has been key in ensuring that St. Cecilia students know what the world of technology has to offer to them and has made sure they have what it takes to move forward.”
Aside from her role as assistant principal at St. Cecilia Catholic School, Valdez directs the STEM program, with a strong link to the teachings of the Gospel.
“God has sent us into the world to help others and to do our best to make this a better world where new generations can live peacefully,” she said.
On Mother’s Day, Estela and Ileana will celebrate from a distance. However, mother and daughter feel grateful for the advances in technology that always keep them close and connected.
Thanks to that connection, Estela has been able to be part of every successful step her daughter has made away from home.
“It is a great pride to see my daughter be a strong, independent and professional woman,” said Estela. “I would like to be like her one day.”