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Young Women in STEAM Grant Recipient – Ivanna Hernandez

Astronomer | Aerospace Enthusiast | Astronaut-In-Training

Meet 17-year-old, Ivanna Hernandez, from Colombia who is turning her passion for astronomy into a landmark opportunity for girls pursuing STEAM fields as she strives to become the first Latin American woman to go to Mars.

2021 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Ivanna Hernandez

Describe yourself in your own words and your STEAM projects/interests.

I consider that the words that best encompass my personality traits would be: Curious, Ambitious, Passionate and Multifaceted. I would say that the other qualities that describe me are ramifications of these.

I describe myself as a girl who is restless for knowledge, someone who always has questions and is looking for answers regarding each of the areas of knowledge in which I develop myself or that call my attention, which happen to be many and quite varied.

As I mentioned, I consider myself to be multifaceted in that aspect, I find all the areas of STEAM fascinating, throughout my life I have been passionate about different areas even out of conventional sciences, such as history, paleontology, biology, archeology, geology, sociology, neuroscience, classic and quantum physics, astronomy, philosophy, art and its history, languages, music, etc. The most fascinating part for me is to discover how absolutely all the areas of knowledge are intertwined and complement each other! Which makes it all even more fun and interesting.

As I grew older and my interests diversified and the professions I wanted to be expanded more and more, I have always been an advocate that you can be absolutely anything you want to be (You can be anything! “Haha, looks like you want to be a Barbie!” my mom used to tease me with that when she heard the many professions I wanted to be when I grew up). And even though I would love to be able to have every profession in every field that interests me, I ended up coming to the conclusion that my favorite area is astronomy, astrophysics, and physics. My greatest and great passion is the universe and understanding how it works and my dream and life goal is to be the first Latin American woman astronaut to go to Mars.

All my projects have been focused on that life goal since I was 11 years old when I took the decision of what I wanted to become.

What/Who inspired you to get into STEAM?

I have always been characterized for being a very curious child, among the memories of my childhood I find myself questioning the way things were established and how they worked constantly. I consider that curiosity is one of the greatest virtues that children possess, however it is also the one that is most commonly lost when entering adulthood.

At the Age of 11 my interest in the scientific world and research began to flourish thanks to educational programs, which fed my interest in learning, until one in particular awakened in me a genuine passion for science:

Cosmos, A Space Odyssey; The first time I watched it I couldn’t help being fascinated with its beautiful images, explanations and stories about the universe and the people who have dedicated themselves to study it throughout history. It was like love at first sight, soon I was full of excitement waiting for each broadcast of the program, researching and reading books on my own about black holes, galaxies and in general, about STEAM. Learning about space and the universe we are in, filled me with illusion and questions; Science could answer many of my doubts and filled me with many more.

 Through my long research I learned about the history of many people who had reached great achievements thanks to their dedication and curiosity. That inspired me more and more to want to make an effort to leave a mark on the history of my generation and community.

This is perhaps why I admire science communicators who manage to make curiosity their main tool and science the fun medium that allows us to understand and learn about the universe around us.

What are some advantages being a female brings to the STEAM/Aerospace field?

The best solutions are achieved when you have a diverse team capable of noticing all the flaws that a problem or design raises. Because women have different social backgrounds and specific needs, our contribution complements and fills gaps that have been overlooked for years.

In addition, most of us are women pioneers in the different areas of STEAM in which we are involved, resulting in giving greater visibility, support, inspiration and impact to people who are also a part of minorities and might be scared or discouraged by that.

The sky is the limit, literally, for your STEAM dreams. What do you hope to accomplish in your career?

Being the first Latin American woman to go to Mars is one of my main goals and is the one on which my life plan and projects are currently focused. Although I am aware that it is already quite an ambitious goal and that it requires continuous effort and dedication, it is not the only way in which I want my STEAM career to unfold, I plan for my journey to evolve in several facets and to develop in different media and areas of knowledge.

Among these parallel goals, two stand out significantly: In the social sphere, following one of my greatest passions, I aim to become a science communicator with high reach (for all audiences), mainly focused on making knowledge and education simple, fun and affordable. I believe that if you are passionate about something, your most natural desire is to want to share it with everyone! And when it comes to education and science it becomes even more necessary, especially among vulnerable communities, where access to education is difficult.

My main inspiration for this goal is inspired by Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tysson and their wonderful work as divulgators. Like them I would like to do this through different platforms, such as books, television, social media, radio and even more modern interactive alternative media such as games!

My other more technical goal is to become a scientist who makes great contributions to the scientific world and to humanity.

What would you tell young girls who are interested in STEAM/Aerospace, but too intimidated or discouraged to pursue it?

I would tell them that limitations are mental, there will always be someone who is willing to teach, guide or help you in whatever goal you set for yourself, so if you put your mind to it and don’t give up, you can achieve and be absolutely anything you want to be! Life is short, our potential infinite and there is no right time, age or limit to do what you love.

On the other hand, if you are intimidated remember that science is about understanding the things around us! as Neil deGrasse Tysson said “one of the best parts of being a scientist is that you never have to grow up” so stay curious and have fun with it!

Please provide a short anecdote of a time you felt most confident or excited about your STEAM pursuits.

I would definitely say that one of the moments in my STEAM career that has brought me the most happiness was being the winner of the first PoSSUM 13 International Microgravity Flight Challenge, where I had the opportunity to develop an experiment with my team and test it first hand in a microgravity environment.  An unforgettable experience where not only I was able to do science in a fun way but also we made a historical landmark, being the first crew in a microgravity flight of the NRC to be entirely formed by women!  

What do you think is most exciting about the future of STEAM/Aerospace, and is there a specific advancement you’d like to see happen?

I am very excited about the idea of space tourism and humanity becoming interplanetary. No doubt the first steps are already being made, but I would like to live long enough to see the time when we even have colonies or bases on other planets and commercial space travel is as common as an airplane flight is today. 

Who’s your favorite female icon and why? (She can be any kind of woman anywhere in the world, in any industry or impact area and she could be celebrity, leader, influencer, important figures, etc.)  

I admire the Colombian engineers: Adriana Ocampo, who is a planetary geologist and director of NASA’s science program, Luz Maria Martinez Sierra, a physics engineer who works at NASA, Angela Posada-Swafford who is a science journalist and writer, Diana Trujillo, a NASA aerospace engineer, who was one of the people behind the arrival of the Perseverance rover to Mars, transmitted live for the first time in Spanish for NASA at the landing of the rover on the surface of the Red Planet and was part of the team that designed the rover’s arm, among other instruments within the Mars 2020 mission.

Also a great inspiration and mentor for me is Dr. Yajaira Sierra Sastre, who is a Puerto Rican who is part of PoSSUM 13 and works at NASA, currently working at NASA’s Glenn Research Center as manager of the Mars Spring Tires project. 

2021 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Ivanna Hernandez