Engineer to Comedian: Shayla Rivera

Shayla Rivera was the type of kid who took things apart to understand how they worked. “I was such a geek,” she says. So when the family uprooted from Puerto Rico to Houston, Texas, it wasn’t entirely surprising that she would attend Texas A&M University, graduate with an aerospace engineering degree, and become a rocket scientist for NASA’s Space Shuttle and Space Station programs.

What shocked Rivera instead was how she felt after attending her first motivational work training session. “I was blown away,” she says. “In that moment, I decided I wanted to make other people feel something positive.”

In 1993, Rivera quit her job and began traveling around the country to give motivational speeches. Then, people started telling her, ‘You should be a comedian.’ Hearing the suggestion so often, she finally tried it out. “Once I did my first five minutes, I knew I had arrived at the place I needed to be.” She then merged her standup comedy routines with motivational speaking, creating an “entertational” career.

In her spare time, Rivera devotes herself to motivating young Latinas to reach for their goals. “As a whole, they’re a tremendous force, apt to accomplish great things.” But from a cultural standpoint, she says, they are not encouraged to study in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). “I have a lot to tell them about that,” she says. “I really believe in their potential because I believe in mine.”

by Shirley Velásquez