Christina Hernández Dreamed Of Space When She Was Young, Now She’s An Engineer For NASA
Screenshot via YouTube
As a little girl, Christina Hernández dreamed of space. According to her, from a young age, Hernández would go to the library and check out endless amounts of books on the outer galaxy, absorbing all the information she could like a sponge. And now, this 30-year-old Mexican-American Jefa has been an engineer for NASA for eight years.
Before she even graduated from with a master’s in aerospace engineering, NASA offered Christina Hernández a job at their world-renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I’m an aerospace engineer & a chingona one at that😜 I currently work on @NASAPersevere preparando nuestros instrumento científicos para Marte! I love breaking things and then learning how to fix them! But I am not nearly as cool as some of these amazing #MujeresEnLaCiencia (1/) https://t.co/pfmDwsR1Rg pic.twitter.com/TRIDaXSLGo— Christina Hernández 🤘🏽👩🏽💻🌌 (@estrellasycafe) February 11, 2021
Working at JPL was a dream Christina Hernández had been working toward for years. Since 2015, she has been working as a payload systems engineer for the Mars Perseverance Rover. That means, in her words, she “[makes] sure that the science instruments we send to Mars have been designed, built and tested to complete their science investigations once they’re on Mars.”
While she was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she was active in groups like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Multicultural Engineering Program. But it was lonely at the top. When she graduated in 2013, Christina Hernández was the sole Latina in the aerospace engineering master’s degree program.
Despite her stellar education and her NASA job offer, Hernández says she had imposter syndrome.
In NASA’s profile on Hernández, the aerospace engineer admitted that sexist and racist experiences she had when she was growing up made her feel unworthy of her success. “When I was younger, I felt inadequate after those experiences,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t cut out for engineering, let alone working at NASA.”
And even though she has a degree in aerospace engineering, Hernández says that she was never a science or math whizz.
“The math and science classes were freaking hard. Math is hard and science is hard,” she told NASA. However, she says that her struggles in STEM classes helped her develop the grit to persevere through anything. “Can you approach a problem, struggle with it and find a way forward?” she says was the major lesson she learned when getting her graduate degree*. “I always felt like I had to study five times more than my peers just to do well.”
In her privileged (and hard-earned) role as a NASA engineer, Christina Hernández recognizes that she has the power to help other Latinas realize their dreams of working at NASA too.
“My grandma often says ‘échale ganas, mija’ which means, give it your all,” she said in an interview with NPR. “That is every single Latina that I’ve ever worked with, you know?”
She continued: “The way I see it is I see NASA and the entire aerospace industry is really going through this revolution of these up-and-coming engineers and leaders who have a vision for a more inclusive and transparent future. And, more importantly, once you get to the top, being able to pull up others behind you so we can continue to grow together and to continue to better ourselves.”
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