The Society of Women Engineers is proud to feature the Latinos Affinity Group all throughout the month of September. To kick things off, we are excited to feature a few Latinas who are making a difference on earth and our understanding of space. We hope their stories serve as inspiration for you to dream big!
Meet Zaida Hernandez (she/her)
Zaida Hernandez is an engineer and author from Houston, TX. She currently works on the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis Campaign at NASA Johnson Space Center. Zaida graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Houston. She is a STEMinist and loves participating in STEM outreach events particularly those geared toward women or underrepresented groups. She published a bilingual children’s coloring book called “Space Espacio” and recently partnered with Lil’ Libros to publish “My First Space Words in English and Spanish.”
We asked Zaida: What inspired you to choose Engineering as your career path?
I was always interested in outer space but I didn’t really know what to do with my “space enthusiasm” or how that could turn into a career. In high school, an internship reconnected me with my love for space and I decided that engineering would be a great career path to get me into the space industry permanently. Engineering is a wonderful career path that gives you a lot of versatility and allows you to do many things from designing to analysis to testing.
Why do you think it is important to see more Latin@s in Engineering & STEM?
As a Latina in engineering, I didn’t see many people who looked like me or understood some of the things I was going through. It is important to have more Latinas in STEM for many reasons but I feel that one of the biggest reasons is to mentor the new generations, share our experiences with them, and help them along their own journey. While it is great to inspire them through our own stories, it is important for us to give them the tools and guidance to be successful and create their own unique path.
We are so thankful to Zaida for sharing part of her story with us! Make sure to follow Zaida on Instagram @thespacelatina
Our next inspiring story comes from Diana Trujillo (she/her)
Diana recently entered an elite group of people joining Nasa’s Flight Director Program.
Nasa has only had 101 directors in its history.
Diana was born and raised in Cali Colombia. She earned a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland, with additional studies at the University of Florida. She worked at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) before transitioning to her current role as flight director.
Her experience also includes working on martian rovers. During a recent interview she shared:
“…Mars to me made a difference in my life having worked on mars operations on the surface and doing so much science and working with an international team of scientists and engineers made a huge difference not only on what we did and how we discover things on that planet but also how we worked as a team”
For years, Diana provided bilingual updates on the Perseverance mission via NASA’s Martes de Marte weekly video series and via her Twitter account. Make sure to follow Diana on Twitter @fromCalitoMars
Meet Joan-Marie Melendez-Misner (she/her)
Joan received a dual bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering/Chemistry and a master’s degree in Systems Engineering. Her journey was not easy, but she knew from a young age that she wanted to reach for the stars. Being a Panamanian/Puerto Rican female, she has diversified the STEM profession by launching scientific missions to space and exploring other worlds from a diversely unique perspective.
In her spare time, Joan volunteers throughout the community and is fully involved with STEM Outreach Programs, including judging robotics competitions, mentoring middle/high school aged, and participating in the “Women in Math” events. She was chosen as a “Wonder Woman” for several STEM events due to her endeavor in the community and was also chosen as one of the DoD’s “30 under 30” promotional video which aimed at raising awareness about STEM career opportunities among college students.
As a first-generation graduate, she strives to increase representation in underrepresented communities, as well as encourage them to pursue STEM careers through social media and nonprofits. She creates STEM content on Instagram/TikTok under the name “YourFemaleEngineer”.
We asked Joan: What inspired you to choose Engineering as your career path?
I was a curious child looking up at the stars and wondering what lies in our universe. I would always ask for the Science toys for Christmas which included telescopes, microscopes, lab coats, etc. So deep down, I always knew I was destined for a career in the STEM fields. At first, I was planning to become a doctor because I loved helping people- eventually becoming a doctor for NASA helping the astronauts. However, after I volunteered at a nearby Florida Hospital, in the emergency room nonetheless, I passed out when I saw blood and needles and knocked my head on the floor. It was an immediate reminder that I had to course correct. I then spoke to my guidance counselor and she steered me into engineering. My curiosity for how things work and the interest of working with my hands helped me fall in love with engineering. Additionally, I was an intern for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and got to work hands-on with fighter jets and biofuels, and I knew from that moment on that my career would be in engineering.
Why do you think it is important to see more Latinas in Engineering & STEM?
I always say that Representation Matters. Growing up, I did not see a lot of people that looked like me at NASA or in the STEM fields in general. This was also true in the media. One of my favorite movies of all time was Apollo 13. I wanted to be a doctor in Mission Control helping the astronauts go to space and perform their experiments; however, I noticed that Mission Control was not very diverse. I know this was just a movie, but when I looked up Mission Control from the Apollo era and the Shuttle era, not many people that looked like me were in the room. This is a problem. This is why I started my social media account because I saw a hole in the presence of Women in STEM on social media. I want to share my experience as not only a Woman in STEM, but a Latina in STEM. I want young minorities to see that we have a presence in these fields and are making a real contribution to space exploration.
And last but not least, this next feature should come as no surprise: Katya Echazarreta
Katya stole our hearts when she became the first Mexican born woman to go to space thanks to the non-profit organization Space Humanity.
She is an electrical engineer who started at San Diego City College and transferred to UCLA where she obtained her bachelor’s degree.
Kat writes on her website:
Throughout my journey in engineering school I was very aware about the lack of women in the field. This was very difficult for me because I did not have many people I could ask for advice regarding several topics such as the implicit biases we face on a daily basis. I’ve been given the opportunity to help guide those girls and women who, like me, are looking for someone with experience in what they are going through. Through honesty about the difficulties and encouragement I hope to be able to help women be better prepared for their experience as a woman in STEM. (2).
We will be eternally grateful to Kat for reminding us that dreams do come true.
If you haven’t already, make sure to follow Katya on Instagram @katvoltage