The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields exist all around us, from the gravity that keeps our feet on the ground, to the way our cells are working inside our bodies. STEM fields contribute to all sorts of inventions that help in everyday life, and bring about new discoveries in our knowledge of our environment, medicine, space, and much more! According to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce, Hispanics in total make up 7% of the STEM workforce in the United States, and only 3% of Latinas are represented in the STEM fields. Here are some Latinas who have made their career by making discoveries, conducting important research in STEM, and are paving the way for future Latinitas to go after their STEM dreams!
Lydia Villa-Komaroff - Cellular Biologist
Lydia Villa-Komaroff is a biologist of Mexican descent, earning her Bachelor’s degree at Goucher College and Doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the time, she was the third Mexican-American woman to earn a doctorate degree in the United States! At first, she wanted to study chemistry, and was faced with an academic advisor who told her, “Women didn’t belong in chemistry!” Despite these set-backs, she discovered her love for biology, and followed her passion. She went on to contribute to the first synthesis of mammalian insulin in bacterial cells, and now works a company that develops cell processing systems.
Elba Serrano - Biophysicist
Elba Serrano was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but spent many years growing up living in different parts around the world because her father was in the U.S. military. She recalls that growing up, she received a lot of bullying at school from her peers because of her brown skin and Spanish accent. As she became older, she discovered a passion for the sciences, and felt they transcended the barriers of ethnic divide. She received her PhD at Stanford University, and remembers throughout her entire education being one of the very few females in science programs, and part of even a smaller group of minority students. She is now an established Biophysicist studying the nervous system, focusing her research at the University of New Mexico on discovering ways to restore hearing loss.
Adriana C. Ocampo - Planetary Geologist
Adriana C. Ocampo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the age of 14, she and her family came to live in the United States. She began her interest in science and space exploration early in her youth, and by her junior year in high school, was working a summer job at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Geology at California State University with a specialization in planetary science. She worked at JPL as a research scientist, became a program executive at NASA in Washington DC, and is currently working at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands as a research scientist. She contributed to various space missions, has studied planets, moons, and many other celestial bodies, and was even a part of the discover of the Yucatan Peninsula crater, believed to be the impact site of an asteroid responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs and other ancient creatures of the Earth.
Marcela Carena – Physicist
Marcela Carena was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and received her degree in Physics at theInstituto of Balseiro in Argentina. She specializes in particle physics, and studies the origins of matter, and the matter and antimatter in the universe. Carena currently works as the senior theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. She is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago, and advises the U.S. Department of Energy. Aside from scientific work, she has worked to establish a visitor program at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for Latin American students to come and conduct research there during their graduate education.
France A. Córdova - Astrophysicist
France A. Córdova is of Mexican and Irish descent, getting her Hispanic roots from her father. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English at Stanford, thinking she would pursue a career in writing or journalism. After seeing the 1969 walk on the moon on television, a passion for science was ignited, and she went on to receive a PhD in Physics from the California Institute of Technology. She became the second woman and youngest person to be chief scientist at NASA, and has become an award-wining astrophysicist. Throughout her career, she developed experiments to analyze space and help answer the questions of how the universe was created. She is currently the director of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. government agency that promotes STEM education and the advancement of scientific discovery.
If you’re interested in STEM, it’s never too early to start looking for related programs at your school or in your area, joining clubs at your school, or talking to teachers at school about your interests! To learn more about Latinas in STEM and how you can get started on pursuing your interests in these fields, here are a few sites to check out:
For Girls in Science: http://forgirlsinscience.org/
Latinas in STEM: http://www.latinasinstem.com/
Latino STEM Alliance: http://www.latinostem.org/