In commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month and Suicide Prevention Month, we celebrate the impact of MITRE’s Sandra Medrano Bonilla. The early-career professional contributes to our mission and culture through her work in veteran suicide prevention, as well as her leadership in our Latin-American Network.
Sandra Medrano Bonilla’s birthday falls on July 3. A first-generation American citizen of Salvadoran heritage, she recalls being “a very patriotic kid.” Her mother took her shopping every year for birthday outfits adorned with stars and stripes.
Her family’s immigrant experience shaped in her a strong drive to succeed.
“I have the great privilege of being born in this country, and I see how hard my parents worked,” she says. “I want to honor their sacrifices and take full advantage of my opportunities.”
I have the privilege of being born in this country and I see how hard my parents worked. I want to honor their sacrifices. MITRE allows me to do really impactful work for the public good.
For Medrano Bonilla, that meant working her way through college and earning a bachelor’s in finance from Virginia Tech University. She also took the school’s motto “Ut Prosim”—Latin for “that I may serve”—to heart.
That’s what drew her to MITRE after graduation. “It’s a great place to be able to do really impactful work for the public good.”
Medrano Bonilla’s work includes data analysis for a Veterans Administration (VA) grant program that provides resources toward community-based suicide prevention efforts for U.S. veterans. She’s creating dashboards to enable better decision-making and make it easier for grantees to improve their programs—and their support to those who served our nation.
With an average of 17 veterans succumbing to suicide every day, Medrano Bonilla understands the gravity of the problem—and the criticality of advancing the right solutions.
”I came to realize human data is the most complex data. There's almost an unlimited number of combinations,” she explains. “As you’re figuring out how to analyze everything objectively, you have to remember these are real people in need.”
Work Ethic Born of a Traumatic History
Medrano Bonilla joined MITRE almost five years ago. An initial foray into the financial side of our VA portfolios exposed her to the myriad ways we serve veterans under our Center for Enterprise Modernization. After earning a master’s in information technology (through our Basic Educational Assistance Program), she wanted to combine her finance skills and IT graduate degree to amplify her impact.
This led her to the VA suicide-prevention project, one of two military-serving projects she supports. The other leverages analytic tools and artificial intelligence applications to help the Defense Health Agency automate their financial reporting processes.
Medrano Bonilla’s work ethic follows the example set by her parents. The couple fled El Salvador and sought amnesty in the United States in the late 1980s, at the height of the Salvadoran Civil War. After escaping violence and extreme poverty, they worked multiple low-income jobs here to provide for their family.
Medrano Bonilla says her mother, in particular, impressed upon her the values of diligence and determination.
“My mom always talked to us about ‘The American Dream’ and how if you work hard enough, the opportunities are limitless,” she says. “It's going to be harder for some people than others, but there's always a way.”
Those teachings seem to have served Medrano Bonilla well. For example, she won a Breakthrough Award—MITRE’s highest team recognition—for her contributions managing the financial portfolio of a critical VA program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As she applies her expertise to two projects supporting different government agencies, she appreciates the diverse opportunities MITRE offers. “I was able to put my master’s degree to use and expand my finance background, while building skills in data analytics and machine learning.
“There’s never a shortage of learning here. Your career is what you make it.”
Passion for Helping, Fire for Learning
Medrano Bonilla credits part of her career-making to the power of relationships.
“In college, I was sometimes the only Latino or the only woman in the class, especially as a finance major. I had to figure a lot out by myself. But I’m thankful for the good mentors I had along the way.
“Now I think about the people who helped me, and I want to help others in the same way.”
She does that, in part, through MITRE’s Latin-American Network, which aims to promote Latino and Hispanic American culture and foster professional development for its members. As the group’s civic engagement lead, Medrano Bonilla coordinates initiatives to give back to the community.
One of the largest of those efforts supports the Northern Virginia Family Service, which works to strengthen underrepresented communities (particularly Latino and Hispanic Americans in the area). MITRE volunteers contribute through things like toy and school-supply drives and at their thrift shop.
“I'm always amazed by how generous and helpful people are,” Medrano Bonilla says. “For me, the best thing is that at every event, I see different people from across MITRE come together for a common cause.”
Medrano Bonilla also carries a strong passion for seeing Latino and Hispanic Americans grow and flourish in their careers. She offers a few pieces of advice to early-career professionals like herself.
“First, don't underestimate the power of networking. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone and get to know people from different projects. Aside from all the fancy tools and systems we become experts on, it's really the people and relationships that helped me find new opportunities.
“Second, the world is constantly changing, so stay curious—and don't lose that fire for learning.”
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