Alumni Portrait: Moises Silva ’16 Th’16

January 29, 2019

By Catharine Mayor Lamm

Structural Engineer

Moises Silva at Dartmouth
Moises works at Northrop Grumman doing service life extension of the entire US Navy's F/A-18 fleet. (Photo by Shaun Fenn)

Moises Silva ’16 TH’16 describes himself as “a well-rounded individual with strong interpersonal skills, a dedication to community engagement, and a passion for playing the drums.” He was taught the value of education from a young age and came to Dartmouth already interested in expanding his engineering and problem-solving skills.

We had the opportunity to ask Moises more about his journey:

How did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

I was born and raised in LA and attended a public charter high school — a small school with more attention to students and a smaller class size. I knew I wanted to be an engineer because math and science gave me a hands-on approach to solving problems. For me, visualizing what the results would be motivated me to solve a problem. That's how I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Did the drive to go to college come from your parents?

It did come from my parents. I'm a first-generation Mexican American. Both my parents are naturalized citizens from Mexico. In most Mexican families, the mother is pretty much the head of the household and that's what she drove into us. But it was also when I actually went to high school and I saw how normal it seemed to go to college. Because in my family, I don't know anybody who went to college. At my high school, the first thing I would see is college banners everywhere, the teachers talking about getting into college, and going to the right college. That really motivated me to reach for college even when it seemed unattainable.

Did you visit Dartmouth before you chose it?

Yes. As soon as I saw that Thayer was its own engineering bubble, I knew that Dartmouth would be the place for me. Because my concern was always, well, Dartmouth is a liberal arts college. I'm not sure if they really focus on engineering, but then you see Thayer. You see that there's a specialized center for engineering there for you to really dive into.

You walk into Thayer and you see the projects everywhere, and you see the machine shop. You see the project space and Couch Lab. You see that it's definitely a world where people are creating and engineering. That made it really easy for me, on top of the fact that I would get, essentially, a full ride. So I almost had no choice to make.

It almost becomes surreal that you're going to college. Then you arrive on campus and, yeah, at first, it's hard. At first, it's difficult. You get your first C, C minus, and you realize that you need to learn how to succeed here again because it's different.

You earned an AB & BE in four years?

Yes. I was fortunate to be part of FYSEP which is the First-Year Student Enrichment Program that focuses on helping first-generation students. A week or two before classes started I was able to interact with mentors and other students who were similar to me and my situation. My mentor, in particular, was another AB/BE student who was working on completing it in four years and I was like, I think that I can do it in four years as well. Since I knew I wanted to be an engineering major from the beginning, it was easier at that point to really plan it out versus if you decide to be an engineer your sophomore year.

What did you think about having to take liberal arts classes?

I think that's probably the most important part of my education. I didn't realize it when I decided to go to Dartmouth that the liberal arts aspect would be so important. It helped me develop my soft skills like communication and interpersonal skills. It helped me be a well-rounded individual.

One class in particular that I really enjoyed was “History of the Book.” We learned about the different technologies used to mass-produce books from the early days until current production. My final project was to make some sort of a book but it didn't necessarily have to be two covers and pages in between. So I made a book object. It looks like a book, but when you open it, it plays music like an MP3 player and carries your library of music. I found a microcontroller that could take an SD card. I soldered some buttons on so you could press play, skip, pause. I added a speaker and put it all together with laser-cut plywood. I added a fake leather cover on all the wood and presented it as my book. It was exciting because I got to create something by using all my knowledge as an engineer and excel in a liberal arts class.

Do you have a favorite memory of Thayer?

ENGS 76 with Professor Diamond. We had to devise a remote-controlled vehicle to go through an obstacle course. Each of the obstacles had an easy version, a hard version, and a complete bypass. If you did the harder obstacles, your points would grow exponentially.

The entire area was full of other engineers curious to see the competition. We were the last team and no one had yet done all the hardest obstacles. We had passed all the obstacles, and at this point the robot started climbing the wall. It hitched a little and people gasped. Then it kept going, and crossed the finish line with maybe 30 seconds left.

We knew we had won the competition and my team and I were celebrating and that was the point where I realized, yes, I picked the right major. I'm going down the career path that I want and I'm having the most fun.

How has all this translated to being out in the world?

First of all, professionally, I was able to use my network to find my first position, which is currently at Northrop Grumman as a structural engineer where I support the US Navy's F/A-18 fleet. I do service life extension, which means I help retrofit the entire fleet. The only way I could have obtained that position is by being able to take risks in terms of asking people for help and being persistent. At Thayer I learned to take calculated risks, not be afraid to fail, reach for my goals, and always dream big. That has helped me achieve my career goals.

Additionally, my liberal arts education has given me a broader perspective and influenced me to get involved in my community. I am fortunate to be the College and Career Programming Committee chair for the Young Professionals Network Board of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. I try to do my part, in terms of helping students from low-income communities, similar to where I come from, reach their potential. In this role, I get to leverage all the skills I learned at Dartmouth to empower students from historically underserved communities.

What do you see when you look to the future?

I love what I do. I get to be an engineer. I get to work on complex products. But I think, as I mature and become more experienced, I want to shift towards helping businesses make decisions. Specifically, data-driven decisions because that’s the kind of role where you get to provide technical know-how, in terms of working with data and extracting insights. But then you also have to use some soft skills, in terms of communicating with your business partners, communicating with a customer, and making sure that the business is moving and working in the right direction. I still want to maintain my engineering background, but I want to use it on a grander scale.