Maya and Athena Combs-Hurtado
Maya (l.) and Athena Combs-Hurtado

Athena and Maya Combs-Hurtado have a lot in common. They have the same friends, are interested in the same activities, and often travel together. The twins, born in Venezuela but raised in Albuquerque, now have one more thing they share: they are both graduating from the University of New Mexico this fall with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

According to the American Society of Engineering Education, women earn about 18 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in all fields of engineering. In mechanical engineering, the number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees is even fewer at just short of 12 percent. This semester, seven of the 26 recipients of the bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UNM are women.

The Combs-Hurtado sisters both shared an early love of math and science, so they decided to pursue engineering. Athena has an interest in energy systems, and Maya once considered civil engineering but decided upon mechanical because she thought it would provide her with the most broad-based engineering education.

The sisters are a frequent sight around the School of Engineering, volunteering in a variety of student organizations, including being the co-presidents of the Hispanic Engineers Student Organization (HESO) last year, being involved in the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and volunteering with K-12 science programs in the area.

“Everyone knows us,” Athena said.

Both also enjoyed internships while being a student, Athena at Oso Biopharmaceuticals in Albuquerque and Maya at Chrysler in Detroit.

They also have shared a lot of classes together, including a senior design course where they designed an automatic pet door that works by reading a dog’s microchip.

Engineering is famous for being a tough major, but the sisters said their support system — both in the school and with each other — kept them going.

“Every semester, I wanted to quit, but the design classes motivated me,” Maya said. “They tied every project to what we learned in class.”

Athena said the people in the School of Engineering and the networking opportunities provided to students was a big perk.

“We have a very good support system here, and there were a lot of chances to make contacts,” she said.

After graduation, the sisters are planning to travel to Europe together, then explore their options, which may include graduate school.