WT’s Distinguished Lecture Series to blast off with space pioneer


The next West Texas A&M University Distinguished Lecture Series event will be out of this world with the first Latina astronaut in space.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa will discuss the importance of STEM education, among other topics, at WT’s Distinguished Lecture Series event at 6 p.m. Oct. 17 in Legacy Hall in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center on the Canyon campus.

The event rounds out Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations sponsored by WT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Ochoa commenced her NASA journey in 1988 when she worked as a research engineer at the Ames Research Center. Two years later she secured her role as an astronaut at the Johnson Space Center and took part in four missions as the first Hispanic woman to go to space, recording close to 1,000 hours in orbit, starting with Discovery in 1993.

She later was named the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center, making her the first Hispanic director and second female director of the center, where she served from 2013 to 2018.

“I got interested in becoming an astronaut when the space shuttle was developed because it was capable of so many different activities in space, including scientific research in many different disciplines,” Ochoa said.

The California native received her bachelor’s degree in physics at San Diego State University. She furthered her studies at Stanford University where she graduated with her master’s degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering. Ochoa has earned numerous accolades throughout her career, including NASA’s highest award, the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in the federal government, and the Distinguished Service Medal.

“Dr. Ellen Ochoa has made great strides in her work in science and research,” said Angela Allen, WT’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Dr. Ochoa’s accomplishments give representation and empowerment not just to women in STEM, but also to the Hispanic population.”

Her accomplishments include many technical papers and three patents, and six schools have been named for her. She is involved in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and American Association of the Advancement of Science, and she chairs the nomination evaluation committee for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

“There are so many bright minds out there, and to be able to see someone who looks like you accomplishing things like research and space provides a path for Hispanics and others of Latin American descent,” Allen said. “STEM fields are some of the fastest growing fields with so many opportunities, and being able to meet Dr. Ochoa and hearing her story gives possibilities to so many of those who dare to dream.”

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