7 Exceptional Hispanic Women
by Ambika Gogna
Each year, the United States celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 to recognize the contributions made by Hispanic and Latino Americans to the U.S. In honor of the tremendous contributions made by Hispanic women, Women@TheFrontier has chosen to highlight 7 Exceptional Women who have been pioneers and groundbreakers in their fields. They set a precedent for not just Hispanic women, but women throughout the U.S. and around the world. Meet 7 Hispanic women who inspire us.
1. Ellen Ochoa
Impact: First Female Hispanic Woman in the World to go to Space
Country: USA + Mexico
Her Story: In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first-ever Hispanic woman to go to space. She is also the first Hispanic woman to serve as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and has held the position for the last four years. Her accomplishments stretch far and wide, from co-inventor on patents related to optic technology to the recipient of NASA’s highest award for senior executives in the federal government— the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award. Other accolades include the Harvard Foundation Science Award, Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards) and Engineer of the Year.
Ochoa persevered despite the odds of being a woman in science. After three attempts to go to space, she was finally selected and went on to participate in four space missions. On these flights, she served as mission specialist, the Payload Commander, and mission specialist/flight engineer (twice!) Her time in space totaled to almost 1000 hours in microgravity.
“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire—the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
– Ellen Ochoa
Impact: First Latina Supreme Court Justice
Country: USA + Puerto Rico
Her Story: Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a modest household in New York City’s South Bronx. As a young girl, she was inspired by an episode of the Perry Mason show, which she later called the pivotal moment she decided to become a judge. In 2009, she ended up doing exactly that while making history as the First Hispanic Supreme Court Judge in America.
Justice Sotomayor continues to make history today, especially for her role in two historic Supreme Court rulings. In 2015, she was a key player in a case that involved the Affordable Care Act, and among the majority of justices who ruled in favor of legalizing same sex-marriage in all 50 states.
“Remember that no one succeeds alone. Never walk alone in your future paths.”- Sonia Sotomayor
Impact: First Woman and Hispanic American appointed as Surgeon General of the United States
Country: Puerto Rico + USA
Her Story: A diagnosis of congenital megacolon at birth fueled Antonia Novello to enter the medical field. It took 18 years to correct the issue and after her experience, she vowed to become a doctor so “no other person is going to wait 18 years for surgery.”
In 1990, President George W. Bush appointed Novello to Surgeon General of the United States, making her the first Woman and Hispanic American to be Surgeon General of the U.S. She held the position for three years, during which she devoted herself to improving the health of women, children, and minorities during the dawn of the HIV crisis. After she left her position, she was assigned to work for UNICEF, and later went on to become the Commissioner of Health for the state of New York. She was praised by former President Bill Clinton and received several awards for her public health service to the country.
“I believe that fortitude is key. More than anything, be consistent. Go at it. Go at it. Go at it. When you succeed, don’t forget the responsibility of making somebody else succeed with you.”- Antonia Novello
Impact: Discovered the historic Chicxulub Crater
Country: Colombia + Argentina +USA
Her Story: Adriana Ocampo arrived in the U.S. when she was 15 years old, upon which the first thing she asked was, “Where’s Nasa?”
Since then, Ocampo has made a significant impact on science, the most notable being the discovery of the Chicxulub crater that caused the extinction of 50% of the world’s species (including dinosaurs) 66 million years ago. She went on to lead six more research expeditions on the event and is now a planetary geologist and a Science Program Manager at NASA Headquarters. In her current position, she leads missions to Jupiter, Pluto and Venus, and aims to secure the U.S.’s first asteroid sample.
She also follows the philosophy:
Smile: Life is a great adventure
Transcend to triumph over the negative
Aspire to be the best
Resolve to be true to your heart
Success comes to those who never give up on their dreams
“The role immigrants play in American culture is the key for the innovation and diversification of this country…”
Impact: Founding President and CEO of Voto Latino who developed the first voter registration via text message
Country: Colombia + USA
Her Story: Named one of the 10 most powerful women in Washington, D.C. by Elle Magazine, Maria Teresa Kumar has been credited as a driving force in the national elections.
Kumar founded the non-profit organization Voto Latino that encourages American Latinos/Hispanics to become involved in the country’s political process. Using marketing campaigns that have racked up millions of viewers, she reaches out to her target audience, the younger generation and children of immigrants, via technology, media, and public figures who endorse the cause. Voto Latino has registered 225,000 new voters. Rather than political views, Kumar focuses first and foremost on spreading civic awareness and activity among the Latino population.
“What young people need more than anything is information.”- Maria Teresa Kumar
Impact: Founder of Matternet who created an aerial transportation system for the greater good of humanity
Country: Dominican Republic + USA
Her Story: A student at Singularity University, Paola Santana and her team were challenged to come up with a solution to solve some of our greatest global issues, including poverty. Their answer was drones.
Today, Santana is Founder and COO of Matternet, a technology startup that uses drones as a transportation system to deliver lightweight goods. It’s an idea that poses to aid developing countries with poor road infrastructure by providing prompt delivery of medicine, food, and necessities.
Santana has worked with the World Health Organization to deliver medical supplies to remote hospitals in Bhutan, and with Doctors Without Borders to transport medical tests for tuberculosis. In 2016, Matternet teamed up with UNICEF to use drones to reduce wait times for HIV testing, especially for infants.
“The challenge is trying to envision how the system should work that has nothing to do with how the system works today. How do we adapt the flow of logistics to a new technology?”- Paola Santana
Impact: Studies the Use of Algae as a Biofuel and Making it More Efficient
Country: USA + Mexico
Her Story: Sophia Sanchez-Maes is an 18-year-old college student at Yale University whose impact on science reflects intelligence beyond her years. She’s conducted extensive research on the use of algae as a biofuel and how to make it more efficient, for which President Barack Obama praised her. She is now investigating exoplanets—planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system—at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She received the Jefferson Award for outstanding service by a young American 25 or under.
“With science and technology, you empower yourself to do pretty much anything.”- Sophia Sanchez-Maes
We hope our 7 Exceptional Hispanic women inspire you. Let us know your thoughts. What else do you want to know about these Role Models?