In the United States, September 15th marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the SWE Latinos Affinity Group featured notable women in engineering and STEM from Hispanic and Latino communities. We know that the ingenuity of Hispanics and Latinos did not begin with the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese in the 1600’s thanks to the many amazing ancient engineering feats from the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas and other native peoples of Central and South America that are recognized around the world. While we can assume that women contributed to such projects, we now only have the monuments, artifacts and structures they left behind to know them by. In modern times, we can begin to see the contributions of women starting in the late 1800’s.
Ana Roqué de Duprey (1853-1933) was a Puerto Rican educator and civil rights activist, and polymath who was recognized for her expertise in astronomy, botany, and music. Born in Aguadilla, she became a teacher’s assistant at the age of 11 and two years later founded her own school, in the process developing a geography textbook and program that was adopted by the Puerto Rican education department. Amongst her many achievements, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and science, was an honorary member of the Paris Society of Astronomers and published numerous magazines and books. She founded Liceo Ponceño (a girls’ high school in Ponce) and the College of Mayagüez which became part of the University of Puerto Rico.
Ángela Ruiz Robles (1895-1975) was born in Villamanín, Spain. She was an educator, writer and inventor who published 16 books. In 1949 she patented the first proposal for a mechanical encyclopedia, the forerunner to the ebook. In 1962, she made a prototype of the mechanical encyclopedia and it is now on permanent exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología de La Coruña. It was designed to allow for reading books in any language and incorporated a light to facilitate reading in the dark. She was recognized with many international awards for her inventions, and in 1973 was appointed Provincial Head of the Scientific Polytechnic Federation of International Inventiveness. She was also a member of the Scientific Polytechnic Federation of International Inventiveness as an Engineer in Inventive and Scientific Research.
Pilar Careaga (1908-1993) was the first woman to earn an engineering degree in Spain in 1929 at the School of Industrial Engineers of Madrid, as well as being the first woman in Spain to conduct a train. After completing her degree she moved into politics and thus did not practice as an engineer, but was also notable as the first woman mayor under the Franco dictatorship.
These are just a few examples of the women from the Hispanic diaspora who have contributed to the advancement of science and technology. In addition, we’ve found many modern role models for inspiration with career achievements ranging from being the first Latina astronaut, NASA Deputy Director, NSF Director, corporate executives and CEOs! Check out the links below to find more details about them all.
- Dr. Ellen Ochoa – NASA astronaut; first Hispanic Director of the Johnson Space Center
- Sandra Cauffman – NASA electrical engineering and physics specialist; first Costa Rican woman to lead a Mars-related mission
- Sylvia Acevedo – Girl Scouts CEO and one of NASA’s first Latina employees
- Gina Orozco-Mejia – First Latina executive at SoCalGas; #31 in Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business” (2018)
- Maria Martinez – President of Global Customer Success and GM of Latin America at Salesforce; #6 in Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business” (2018)
- Ana Pinczuk – SVP and Chief Transformation Office at Anaplan; #11 in Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business” (2018)
- Monica McManus – Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Rotary and Mission Systems at Lockheed Martin; #36 in Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business” (2018)
- Jeannie Hilger – Vice President at Northrop Grumman
- France Córdova – Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)
What unites all of these ingenious women is not a single country, culture or even necessarily language, but there is a common thread. Today we often use the terms Hispanic or Latino interchangeably to refer to people whose ancestry is intertwined with the colonization of the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese. The historical origins are complex, but in the US today more than 50 million people identify as being Hispanic or Latino, and more than 477 million people worldwide are Spanish native speakers. Consequently, we feel that it is important to acknowledge the significant contributions of those who come from these communities to inspire today’s young people who feel connected to the Hispanic/Latino diaspora.
If you would like a better understanding of the terms Hispanic and Latino, check out this deep dive into the origins of this category on the US Census.
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