A Latina Astronaut’s Powerful Message to Young STEM Students

Ellen Ochoa BeLatina Latinx
Photo Courtesy of Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

When Ellen Ochoa embarked on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993, opportunities for women in science careers were particularly scarce — not because of a lack of talent, but because of the perpetuation of rusty canons in which such careers were “for boys only.”

Yet, after nearly 1000 hours in space, this engineer, who was once director of the Johnson Space Center, knows that talent like hers is precisely what NASA and research centers around the world need.

The astronaut communicated her message to the next generation of Latinx students who want to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): “We need you.”

“We need your minds. We need your creativity,” she told ABC News.

In her role as president of the National Science Board, Ochoa is doing her part to promote diversity in work and research teams.

“Look at the demographics of our country. They are changing … we have to involve the people in our country. And increasingly, of course, that is people of some kind of Latino or Hispanic heritage,” she said.

For young Latinx students, working in the STEM fields is no longer something out of reach.

“STEM fields offer a unique opportunity to change the world, one person at a time,” said India Carranza, a first-generation Puerto Rican and Salvadorian high school junior who aspires to be a physiotherapist, to the media. “And being able to help people through their paths and different journeys is one of the unique opportunities of the STEM field.”

According to ABC News, Latinx remain a small part of the STEM workforce (7%), despite representing 20% of the overall U.S. population.

For Latinas, the situation is also unique.

However, for Louvere Walker-Hannon, it all starts with fair representation.

She is a MathWorks Senior Application Engineer, member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and other organizations.

Walker-Hannon, who takes pride in her Afro-Panamanian roots, told ABC News, “Representation matters and it matters in all forms, whether it’s visually or in other categories. There are many times when you can walk into an environment and you may be the only person, one of the few that looks like you … so you deserve to have that seat at the table.”

Both Ochoa and Walker-Hannon are living testimony to what Latinas and people of color can achieve once stereotypes are dismantled.