From a McDonald’s Employee to the First Mexicana to Travel to Space: A Q&A with Katya Echazarreta About the Importance of Education and More

From a McDonald's Employee to the First Mexicana to Travel to Space: A Q&A with Katya Echazarretal About the Importance of Education and More
Courtesy of BODEN Agency

Higher education oftentimes feels like an impossible feat. We are currently living through the highest tuition fees ever, and as inflation continues to increase, going to college seems like a challenge. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  

This hasn’t deterred the future of our world to seek the opportunity to get into college. After all, for many, their success is also shared, especially for students who come from the Latine community. A college education continues to help Latine first and second generations as well as their families. Though the cost of college can seem overwhelming, there are different ways to get financial help. For instance, applying for scholarships is a great option and it’s easier than you think.  

In fact, Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space, recently spoke to BELatina News about the opportunity McDonald’s HACER® National Scholarship is providing. This prestigious scholarship allows Latine students to be awarded up to $100,000 for their college education.

From how easy it is to apply to her full circle moment with McDonald’s, it was quite an inspirational conversation. Find our conversation below to learn more about the McDonald’s HACER® National Scholarship and what Echevarria has been up to lately.  

Interview Highlights 

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.  

First off, what are you currently working on? 

I’m currently working very hard with the Mexican government and the Mexican space agency as well as a few people in Congress and in the Senate because we want to pass a constitutional reform that is going to allow Mexico to have a space industry. That is something that we’re all excited about because this would mean that for the first time, Mexico, a Latin American country, could also be a very important leader in this industry. 

I’m also really excited about a foundation that we’re working on. We are very close to being able to announce it. Essentially, this foundation will support talent in Latin America. It is very common for many scientists and engineers to have to leave their country in pursuit of opportunities, especially when it comes to the space industry, which currently doesn’t exist in Latin America. So, by supporting this talent and in supporting the emerging industry, we’re going to be able to allow people to stay home with their families, with their cultures, and with opportunities on their own soil. 

What future space ventures are there in store for you?  

I have a very big goal at the moment and it is to eventually get to the moon. But I don’t necessarily want to do it through the traditional avenues. I want to do this mission with Mexico because Mexico has never had its own mission other than the very first mission. During this first mission, in where the first Mexican astronaut participated, he went along with NASA to oversee the deployment of some Mexican satellites. So other than that, Mexico has never actually had a plan designed for a mission to space. However, Mexico has signed an accord with the United States and several other countries called the Artemis Accord and, essentially, this allows many different countries to collaborate on these future moon missions.  

It is my goal to be able to help Mexico get to that point where we can have that mission with the first group of Mexican astronauts. 

So, let’s talk about the partnership with McDonald’s. How did it come about?  

I was actually a McDonald’s employee. McDonald’s was my first job. And it is thanks to that job that my family was able to get out of a very difficult situation. All we had was my McDonald’s salary and some other random odd jobs that my family would do. That’s how I was able to start my education. I started at a community college and I worked at McDonald’s at the same time. I helped take care of my family, my siblings, and my mom. It is out of that money that we were able to help pay rent and bills. It was very difficult for me to have to do that at 18 years old, but that is how it all started. So, McDonald’s for me is really a full-circle moment. 

Why is it important for you to partner with McDonald’s? 

After everything I’ve been able to accomplish and reach, coming back and working with them so that we can find more individuals whose situations right now are similar to the situation that I was living through is incredibly important to me. We are finding these students and allowing them to apply for these scholarships that were designed specifically for them.  

What are you doing to get the McDonald’s HACER® National Scholarship’s message across?  

I’ve been doing a tour across the United States where we have been visiting different Hispanic communities in different states, and we’ve been sharing these opportunities about the McDonald’s HACER® National Scholarship, which, by the way, has a deadline of February 6th, so it is coming up! You can apply at Another thing that we have been doing is the Mentorship Sessions. So, at every school that we visit, we also get to meet one on one with the students. 

I’ve been doing these one-on-one mentorship sessions with students across the United States and they have been so incredible. It really takes me back to when I was their age. Because of that, we also wanted to open up the opportunity for students to across the United States who didn’t already get this opportunity to be a part of these mentorship sessions. So, we’re also going to be offering virtual mentorship sessions. 

Do you believe education is key to the success of Latinos? 

I’ve always believed that education is a tool for financial security and freedom. I understood that even at 18 years old that if I didn’t actually make a change in my life, my life was going to stay exactly the same. I knew that yes, it’s important to work and make money. We need to survive and we need to pay for things in order to live in this world. But I also knew that if I was going to have to continue to work the same amount and do exactly the same things, I wasn’t going to have any time for anything else. I’d only be surviving. This is why I’m glad I pursued a college degree and went after my dreams. Now, my life is more than just surviving.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the BELatina News audience? 

It is very common to feel like maybe you don’t deserve an opportunity like this. Maybe you’re afraid of not getting accepted to a scholarship or getting accepted to a school and for that reason, you decide not to apply to save yourself those negative emotions or maybe that embarrassment. I have been that person that believed that. But the only thing that we’re achieving here is making sure that that thing we’re afraid of happens. It’s time we give ourselves these opportunities. So, please apply.  

I can assure you that every single person that receives a scholarship at one point felt like they weren’t going to get it or maybe that they didn’t deserve it. But you definitely deserve it.

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