As she thinks back on the things that helped her when exploring a career in STEM, particularly during a time when diversity was less present, Ochoa credits professors who mentored her and helped her visualize the future she wanted for herself and encourages Latinas at the start of their careers to do the same. Below Ochoa shares her initial inspiration to pursue a STEM career, how she deals with impostor syndrome, and what advice she has for Latinas starting their careers.
Ellen Ochoa: I got interested in Physics through my math classes.
I also went to talk with an electrical engineering professor who discouraged me from entering his department — so thanks to the physics professor who welcomed me! How would you encourage someone who is the first or one of the few in their fields?
As I was finishing the college calculus series, I wanted to understand where this math was used and went to talk with a physics professor who pointed out that math was the language of physics. She became the deputy director—and soon later director—of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center. During her time in this role, she used all of the physics, engineering, and computer skills that she gained over the years to supervise the activities of NASA ranging from space missions to student outreach.
Currently, Ochoa serves on several boards including the National Science Board, and she chairs the committee that evaluates nominations for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
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What I learned then applies very much to what I [did as Deputy Center Director], how to manage and how to get the most from everyone on the team. That message was not lost on Ellen. She learned to push herself.
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Careers in Physics.