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Hispanic Gala: "NASA Thrives on the Diversity of its Entire Workforce"

Ninth Annual Hispanic Gala Event.
Credit: NASA/Gary Banziger

Secretary of Labor and the first Latina to serve on the Cabinet, Hilda Solis, recounted when her parents came to the U.S. many years ago as immigrants. They met in a citizenship class and "they knew what it meant to come to this country," Solis said. "They knew what it would mean in terms of their family and the opportunity this great country provides for so many of us."

She continued to tell the audience of Hispanics, ambassadors, governors, elected officials and many others, how her parents emphasized to her and her six brothers and sisters the importance of education. Solis is an inspiration to the Hispanic community, but so is NASA.

Center Director of NASA Langley, Lesa Roe, received a "Bridge Builder Award" on behalf of NASA, along with Solis, because of their efforts and achievements attributed to the Hispanic workforce. Roe and Solis received their award at the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's annual Hispanic Gala at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, Va. on Sept. 12.

Hispanic Gala, Lesa Roe.

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Langley's Center Director Lesa Roe accepted the "Bridge Builder" award, along with Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor from Michel Zajur, president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Hispanic Gala, Lesa Roe.

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NASA Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe accepted the "Bridge Builder" award from Michel Zajur, president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, during the 9th annual Hispanic Gala event in Richmond, Va., Sept. 12. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

However, NASA's story is a bit different than Solis'. Roe described the "truly amazing" landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. She compared it to Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon.

"Apollo and Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon was my generation's event that inspired me and millions of others to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and impacted those and have encouraged us to dream the impossible." Roe said. "Last month, Curiosity gave our youth that very thing to reach for - to reach for the impossible. We are very proud that we have members of our workforce in the Hispanic community that made Curiosity possible."

To achieve missions like Curiosity, it starts with education.

"There was nothing quite as exciting as a couple months ago when we sat in this IMAX Theater [at the Virginia Museum of Science for the Summer of Innovation] with 250 Hispanic students and got to do a conversation live with Joe Acaba at the International space station," said National Institute of Aerospace educator, Rebecca Jaramillo.

Joe Acaba, the first Puerto Rican NASA astronaut, answered the student's questions in Spanish and English. "For me that was a first for the kids it was a moment of inspiration," Jaramillo said. Moments like these were one of many celebrated at the gala.

The evening consisted of approximately 700 people, a cocktail reception, a four-course gourmet meal, music, dancing and performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia with the overarching goal of celebrating the Hispanic community.

"NASA thrives on the diversity of its entire workforce -- their ingenuity, dedication and curiosity about our world and worlds beyond," Roe said. "Our astronauts, engineers, scientists and administrative professionals of Hispanic heritage have contributed greatly to NASA's missions. We honor their successes and commitment to the future of this Agency and exploration."

By: Sasha Congiu

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman