She’s an Astronaut Makes Latina Women Agents of Change

Christina Bazan | Guayaquil – October 11, 2022

Every time this Nayeli Moreno, 12, watched her older brother program or do electrical work she wondered if her future would also take her down the path of “exciting” technical careers despite the fact that what he had in his head was that “this is only for men”.

Until one day his own brother asked him if he wanted to participate in the invitation to She’s an Astronaut, a program that takes Latin American girls to NASA and she did not doubt her desire.

“Obviously I wanted to get in,” Moreno tells Efeminista from his native Quito, Ecuador, a week after returning from the United States. where he strengthened his desire to study a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and become an inspiration to other girls.

“My life It changed a lot because at first I was very shy and didn’t talk. After having this experience, I can now function better. It changed the way I saw the world to know that we women can. It was great because life changed a lot for me and my colleagues,” she says excitedly.

“She’s an Astronaut” is a program of the Colombian “She Is” Foundation, which, through an alliance with the NASA Space Center, seeks to impact the lives of disadvantaged girls in Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic bringing them closer to areas historically inhabited by men and with the aim of making them agents of change in their communities.

“In 2020, we made the first call in Colombia for girls who live in extreme vulnerability between the ages of 9 and 15 and who have exceptional leadership and skills in these STEM careers, What are the huge gaps we have today in terms of gender equality»explains to Efeminista Nadia Sanchez, president of SHE IS.

According to UN Women, women represent only 35% of those pursuing higher education in STEM and they are less than 30% of scientific researchers.

That gap, the UN body says, can start at a very young age in schools and at homeand continues and covers areas such as research, development of professional careers and access to jobs created in these areas.

“She’s an Astronaut”, a program for Latin girls

Sanchez says She’s an Astronaut was originally conceived as a one-week program to visit the Space Center, but with the onset of the pandemic and the shutdown, that all changed. The girls had the opportunity to train for five months on topics What preventing teenage pregnancyleadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, mental health and reproductive health.

“It became a 360 model. Through STEM education, we touch each other factors that generate not only any kind of violence in girls and women, but circles of poverty,” he adds.

In the first stage, 32 Colombian girls were selected from more than 1,000 applicants and after training with group of Latin American scholars of robotics, programming, artificial intelligence, lunar habitat, leadership, conscious management of social networks, innovation and entrepreneurship spent a week at NASA.

During these months, the minors also had to be arrested I create entrepreneurial project that appeared before a jury in the United States.

“We invite women who have done wonderful things and who are reaching super big positions to sit one-on-one with the girls and tell them they were like thembecause they are wonderful stories so they are generated like these role models within the program,” explains Sanchez.

The success of this first call allowed the SHE IS Foundation to expand it to more countries in the region. “Andit’s such a deep dive that for five months we find life stories and see how it transforms reality. from toSo we say She’s an Astronaut takes girls, but returns agents of change to the countries”, add.

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Transform girls’ beliefs and lives

Nayeli Moreno belongs to the invitation SHE IS made this year, so 35 girls from Peru and Ecuador could participate. She was preferred among 1,500 minors. “We had girls from the Amazon jungle, girls representing their local communities, from rural areas, from the coast, from the mountains,” says the president of the foundation.

“A lot of times we go to the territories to announce that they’ve been selected and to get there you have to walk, you have to go up the trail, you have to take a boat. There is impact not only for the girl, but for her community»comment.

Many applicants, she says, feel they don’t have access to these opportunities. “Y see them leave their municipalities, not only to represent a country, but this community, transforms the whole society and its whole social structure.’ They are girls who haven’t left the country or gotten on a plane, and some haven’t even used an elevator or visited a hotel.

“We’ve had little girls who have normalized sexual abuse, violence or armed conflict, and when they start getting more education, they know they can leave their territories and generate more opportunities.” AndIt’s a holistic learning that transforms their lives and really generates a process of empowerment for their families and their community,” says Sanchez.

Moreno is one such example. She is the first in her family to leave the country at such a young age. And she says that everyone is very proud of her. In addition, his entrepreneurial project came first in this invitation.

The inspiration to build it came from the pandemic when he had to take virtual lessons. “HOh, some kids don’t pay attention in class and that has increased in the pandemic. When they returned to the classroom, the children who did not pay attention could not pass the exams and this discouraged them. I realize that through augmented reality you can create a more fun way of teaching so the kids learn more,” he says.

Your project consists of create an area where there are maps on the walls that children can scan with their mobile phones and can learn through 3D drawings. He is about to implement it at his old school.

“I want to be an example”

Moreno does not hide his enthusiasm when talking about his future. «What I want to be to people is a example. To realize that everything in life is possible, to follow their dreams, do not give up. It’s very nice that everyone takes me as an example to follow their dreams.

Her friends became his first admirersbecause, like her, they thought they were unable to enter these professions.

“Yor I encourage them to want to study engineering. I tell them a lot about my experience, what I lived there (at NASA), and they are quite surprised. Edna has already told me she wants to study engineering, who wanted to arm robots. is something that before it was not considered possible for a woman to be able to study”,

He also says he sees himself working at a space center. “In NASA we met a woman from Guayaquil. She was a virtual reality engineer and I was fascinated to see her, how an Ecuadorian managed to get a job at NASA. I and my companions said that one day we would meet here again.

And he advocates for more programs like She’s an Astronaut that lead girls to “live new experiences.” “I wish there were more to break the stereotype that women can’t. Although this stereotype, as it has been created for a long time, will be a bit difficult to break, but anything is possible, so someday we will break it. So I am very glad that there are such programs,” he stressed.

“I think the girls believe we’re changing their lives, but really they change our livesbecause every day is learning. Today’s girls in a few years will be the scientists and engineers who will represent the country,” says Sánchez.

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