It was a celebration of women at The University of Texas-Pan American as Hispanic, Engineering Science and Technology Week came to a close with Latinas in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Day.
In culmination of a weeklong effort to inspire South Texas children to enter the fields of math, science and technology, HESTEC brought together 1,000 young ladies from GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness in Undergraduate Programs) and their mothers to hear motivational stories from Latinas who broke the barriers and succeeded in fields that were once dominated by men.
Audience members learned about the struggles and successes of Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina magazine. Haubegger - who earned a law degree from Stanford University but chose instead to launch one of the first Hispanic magazines for women - said her desire to do so was inspired by the lack of role models she had growing up.
"My family always told me that I was smart and capable of doing whatever I wanted, but I didn't have a lot of positive role models of Hispanic women," Haubegger said. "I felt like I had an obligation to give back to my community, but I never really knew how hard it would be."
After three years of persuading people to believe in her business idea, Haubegger published the first issue of Latina in 1996. Today, the magazine has 300,000 subscribers.
Haubegger encouraged students to pursue their dreams, and persist even when the odds are against them.
"Each one of you is going to have a life that will educate because you will be the first Latina bosses, or the first Latina doctors for many people," Haubegger said. "There has never been a better time to be who we are."
The first Hispanic female astronaut in space, Ellen Ochoa, spoke to participants about her career as a space explorer and innovative engineer. Ochoa was accepted into the NASA astronaut training program in 1990 and in July 1991 became an official U.S. astronaut.
"As you can see space exploration is not a field for ordinary people working ordinary jobs. The development and operation of the space shuttle and space station require a tremendous amount of expertise and dedication from all the people who work on it," Ochoa said.
Ochoa also talked about the importance of family and education in the lives of Latinas in order to move ahead in life.
"I think it is important to get the whole family involved. My family, especially my mother, was real important to me early on in stressing the importance of education," Ochoa said. "I hope people can understand how it can lead to real exciting and rewarding careers."
During her presentation, Ochoa took the opportunity to take questions from audience members and also showed a video of her 13th shuttle mission in 2002 to visit the International Space Station with the Expedition-4 crew.
Nelinda Villarreal of Edinburg attended the event with her daughter Samantha and both said Ochoa and the many speakers that participated in the event inspired them.
"Today I learned how important it is to be a role model for our children and the need to really let them expand their horizons and not hold them back," Villarreal said. "We as parents a lot of times want to keep our kids close to us, but that can be more of a hindrance than an advantage and so we as parents need to support our children in all aspects and every decision that they make."
Samantha, a student at South Texas High School for Health Professions, said she was grateful for the opportunity to spend the day with her mother and listen to these successful Hispanic females tell their stories of inspiration. She said she was motivated to pursue her goal of becoming a chemical engineer or doctor.
"I'm here today because I wanted to spend time with my mom," Samantha said. "I learned that education is really important and Hispanics can do anything they want to do."
Helen Cavazos, president of M.H. Cavazos and Associates, also advised the young ladies to take advantage of the opportunities available to them through education during Latina Day.
"We didn't have programs like these (HESTEC) when I was growing up. You are very fortunate," she said. "You are our future leaders, and the future is now."
The day included panel discussions with UTPA alumni including Lizbeth Lozano, Raytheon; Veronica Molina, Raytheon; Eunice Bocanegra, Xerox; and Patty Salazar.