Mission Possible: Opening Doors for Latinas in STEM

Aerospace Engineering major Michaelle Ramos (‘22) looks to boost opportunities for a population STEM industries lack.

Aerospace Engineering major Michaelle Ramos ('22) gave an advanced aerospace engineering lecture in Spanish for Atomicas Tremendas, a program for young women in Latin America interested in STEM. (Photo: Embry-Riddle)
Aerospace Engineering major Michaelle Ramos ('22) gave an advanced aerospace engineering lecture in Spanish for Atomicas Tremendas, a program for young women in Latin America interested in STEM. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Joseph Harrison)

When Michaelle “Michy” Ramos was 2, she saw the movie E.T. and knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.

“Mama, quiero ir al espacio,” or “I want to go to space.”

Her mother asked if she was sure because it could be dangerous, to which Ramos responded, “I’m not afraid. I’m going to make sure E.T. is safe. I’m going to go to space.”

Born to a Nicaraguan mother and Cuban father, Latin culture was instilled in Ramos throughout her childhood in suburban Georgia and remains paramount in her life. It was the strong Latinas in her family who encouraged her passion telling her, “If you want something, go get it.”

Ramos’ first experiences in STEM were as a child by way of summer camps where she immediately noticed the disparity of males to females and the lack of ethnic diversity. In many instances, she was the only female and found it increasingly difficult to make connections with her predominantly male peers as she got older.

“It does get harder, and you do feel a little bit more out of place, especially not seeing Latinas in the field or people of color...any women in general,” she said.

In 2020, women made up 28.8% of STEM workers, only 2% of which were Latina.* There is a need for more Latina representation in STEM, and one of the keys to accomplishing that is outreach.  

One of Ramos’ earliest outreach experiences, while not STEM-focused, was a catalyst for future community-based endeavors. In high school, she volunteered to assist less fortunate students during the holidays, a large portion of whom were Hispanic, and noticed that many of their parents did not speak English and were unable to communicate with those in charge.

Raised in a bilingual household, Ramos knew she could provide some assistance and offered to translate. As a result, she noticed an immediate shift in the parents’ comfort level and realized she was a link to them feeling heard and understood. The experience showed her the importance of being in the presence of familiarity.

Her desire for community service was born out of a necessity to see others like her represented in STEM.

Ramos’ outreach includes visiting local schools and speaking about her STEM journey as a Latina and teaching topics in aerospace engineering. Every time she visits a school, she sees the excitement in girls’ eyes when she tells them she wants to be an astronaut and knows she is “setting the wheels in motion for kids to dream bigger and reach higher than they think they can.”

Ramos forged a path that enabled her to include additional community service in her college experience, the catalyst being the pandemic.

With her studies going remote, Ramos capitalized on the reach she could have by incorporating the very technology that allowed her to continue her studies into her outreach. She was able to speak to students all over the country. Then she went global.

Atomicas Tremendas, an organization based in Chile, contacted her asking if she could present an advanced aerospace engineering lecture in Spanish. Atomicas Tremendas offers programs for young women in Latin America interested in STEM. Ramos discussed not only what it meant to be studying aerospace engineering, but also what it meant to be a Latina in the field.

Ramos sees challenges as opportunities, not roadblocks.

“The number one thing I tell people is that you have so many doors open in front of you; the only thing you have to do is look up,” she said. “They might look closed, but have you jiggled the door handle a little bit?”

She feels fortunate to be a student at Embry-Riddle where she sees more female and Latina representation in her classes.

“It’s hard to be a woman in engineering anywhere; that is the reality of the world,” she said. “But it is easier here because we have so many women. That is impressive to me. We support each other here.”

Ramos is already noticing a more diverse student population at the schools she visits from when she began her outreach. She sees more opportunities that are available for women and people of color, and that growth gives her hope and pushes her to keep going.

She wants to continue telling her story throughout her time at Embry-Riddle and beyond, and she believes that if just one person is inspired, her efforts have been worth it.

Her end goal?

“Same thing as 2-year-old Michy – I want to go to space,” she said. “I want to make sure E.T. is safe.”

 

*Forbes, 2021