Dr. Milagros Mateu, university program manager at NASA's Office of Education, was awarded The University of Texas-Pan American's HESTEC Latina Pioneer Award, Sept. 27, for her outstanding achievement in contributing to the advancement of Latina education throughout the nation.
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas presented the award to Mateu, who she said was a "very special and brilliant individual" and the Latina face at NASA. Cárdenas praised Mateu's hard work to promote opportunities for Hispanics and other women and minorities in education as well as provide scholarships and create opportunities to produce future female Hispanic astronauts. She was presented with the honor during Latinas Day at the fifth annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week.
Mateu, who oversees all educational programs that NASA funds throughout the United States, began her career in higher education administering programs at Montclair State College and later at Seton Hall University. Her federal career spans 25 years and four federal agencies.
She held increasingly responsible positions at the Department of Labor becoming their deputy regional administrator for the New England Region's Women's Bureau. Later she became the New England regional training officer for the Federal Aviation Administration where she created numerous management training courses and upward mobility programs.
In 1986, she was promoted within the FAA to manage employee training for an automation program at their Washington, D.C. headquarters. Her application of her native fluency in Spanish garnered her international experience with the U.S. Department of Justice as special assistant for Planning and Evaluation and was able to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies of emerging Latin American companies.
Upon accepting the award, Mateu recalled her history of involvement with HESTEC and UTPA and the more than 100 percent support she has received from faculty and staff when requesting assistance.
"I receive this award very humbly," she said. "I am just a symbol. It is the vision of The University of Texas-Pan American and the great work of many people here and at NASA that has made it possible for anything I have been able to contribute."
Mateu said she has had a tremendous career but it would have been impossible without the support of her parents, who said they could only give her the gift of an education.
"I want to tell the Latinas in this audience here today that what has made a difference for me is that I went out and got an education. I have always worked and studied. I want to encourage you to be excited about learning. It opens doors and teaches life," she said. "Dare to dream big dreams. You can be anything you want to be. The world is open to you."
The Latina Pioneer Award is one among many accolades and recognitions gained throughout her career. To pursue her master's degree in education, Mateu was awarded a distinguished Rockefeller Foundation-Ford Foundation Fellowship. In her role as FAA regional training officer, she received the Director's Award for her work to create diversity in the workforce. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans has recognized the program she managed at NASA by directing other federal agencies to emulate it. Mateu has also been honored for her work with Hispanic Serving Institutions by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and her achievements in education have earned her a spot among Hispanic Business Magazine's 100 Most Influential Hispanic Americans.
Mateu holds a bachelor's degree from Inter American University, two master's degrees - one in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and another in educational leadership, administration and policy from Fordham University and a doctorate in education and human development from George Washington University.