By: Agneda-Amber Salas, SMCC Marketing Office Intern
Today was an “out of this world” day on campus here at South Mountain Community College. Not only was it the Hermanas Conference but we also hosted a real NASA Astronaut named Catherine “Cady” Coleman and a NASA Mechanical Engineer, Heather Paul.
Both Heather Paul and Dr. Catherine Coleman are part of “Destination Station,” a NASA International Space Station Program national awareness campaign. Destination Station promotes research opportunities, educating communities about the International Space Station and how it impacts everyday lives here on Earth.
Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, Maricopa Community Colleges Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, was the first to speak at the Conference. Dr. Harper- Marinick opened up with talking about the title and name of the organization, “Hermanas” meaning “Sisters”; and its slogan “Diseña Tu Futuro” meaning “Design Your Future”. She explained it to mean that “You get to decide what your future is”. She encouraged the girls to believe that they can do anything they want to do and to open their minds to the possibilities reminding them that being part of the “Hermanas” organization means “[T]here are a lot of women surrounding you, who are your sisters, and want you to be successful.”
After an amazing speech given by Dr. Harper-Marinick she then introduced NASA Astronaut Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman. Dr. “Cady” Coleman has a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology received in 1983 and a Doctorate in Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 1991. She also ranked Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 2009. She has logged more than 4,330 hours in space and has orbited the Earth 256 times. She is also married, has a son and a stepson.
Dr. Coleman spoke to the “Hermanas” about what it is like being one of the very few female astronauts encouraging them that just because it’s not very common does not mean it is impossible. She talked about what it was like living on the International Space Station and showed a slideshow filled with photos from the Space Station of the people, the activities, the experiments, and of course the Earth.
She told the audience about the kind of projects and experiments that they were able to do in space that they can not do on Earth. Questioning things like water… “What does water really want to do?” If you had a cup of water and turned it over it would just spill all over the ground into a puddle, but in space there is no gravity to pull that water to the ground so what would happen?
She also made a point to talk about the medical experiments that they do and talked about osteoporosis. She compared herself to a seventy year old woman with osteoporosis and said that in space, because they are in space she loses the same amount of muscle and bone in a month that the seventy year old woman would lose in a year here on Earth.
The next speaker was Heather Paul, a Project Engineer in The Crew and Thermal Systems Division which is part of the Engineering Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Heather Paul has a Master’s of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Texas at Austin and a second Master’s Degree in Fitness and Human Performance from the University of Houston- Clear Lake, along with a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Spanish.
Heather Paul likes to think of her team as “Fashion Designers for the Stars”. Her team is in charge of designing, developing, and testing technologies for the astronauts including, equipment, spacesuits, tools, and well as equipment and tools for the robotics that are used by NASA.
All three speakers talked about the possibilities of “AND” and not just “OR”. Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick told the girls that they CAN be mothers AND have careers; they do not have to pick either or. Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman is living proof of that idea; she is married, has a son and step son and is also part of a band playing the flute (even from space!) Heather Paul has also led her life by “AND” instead of “OR”, alongside being a NASA Engineer but she is also a Hip-Hop Instructor, pet friendly, and has pink hair!
Heather Paul also suggested visiting the “Destination Station” exhibit that is currently at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa to see the types of the things that her team works on and also things that Dr. Catherine Coleman talked about as well.
In conclusion the conference turned out to be a huge success for the young girls and hopefully in the future some of them will become one of the few female Astronauts, Mechanical Engineers or Executive Vice Chancellors themselves.