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By Jane LaTour
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Sisters in the Brotherhoods
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training. You’re basically thrown into some situations and you’re working with someone who is more experienced. You pick
up tips and tricks and they instruct you. And you figure it out on your own.”

One year later, Suarez took advantage of the tuition exemption offered to Columbia University employees and enrolled in a
master’s program in computer science through the School of Engineering. She had to supplement her liberal arts background
with courses in statistics, probability, and mathematics. Even after completing this degree in 1994, she kept taking courses,
studying Spanish and then earning a second B.A. in Women’s Studies. Soon after completing this program in 1998, her life
took a different turn.

While working for Columbia University, Suarez used her vacation time to travel to other countries. Visiting Nicaragua as a
tourist, she happened upon the small town of Cunedega. Here she learned that 10 years before, tradeswomen had set up a
women’s construction cooperative. This group included women from New York City. She spent a few days in town as a
volunteer: “They taught me how to lay blocks, how to tie iron reinforcements together. It’s called metal lathing in New York
City. I learned how to pour concrete, all in just three days.”
Margarita Suarez was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1967.
When she was six months old, her parents migrated to
Rochester, New York. At age 11, her family moved to
Jacksonville, Florida. After graduating from high school, she
attended Columbia University, where she majored in
computer science.

In 1989, she went to work for Columbia: “Just as I was
about to graduate [in 1989], I landed a full-time job as a
systems programmer . . . That was a very nurturing
environment. I had to learn everything. In fact, it was like an
apprenticeship, except it wasn’t formal. It was on-the-job
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Margarita Suarez
Elevator Mechanic