First Hispanic woman in space cites mentors

October 8, 2019


The first Hispanic woman to go to space, Ellen Ochoa, visited EPCC speak to the community about the adversities she faced to get where she is.


On Oct. 3, Ochoa first stopped at the Valle Verde campus to speak to directly with students, then attended the 18th annual Hispanic Heritage Mentors dinner as the keynote speaker. 




Claudia Silva / Tejano Tribune

The first Hispanic woman to go to space, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, visited

the EPCC Valle Verde Campus and spoke to the students.




In a kind and gentle manner Ochoa praised the two mentors being honored at the dinner for their hard work in giving back to the El Paso community.


She attributes her success to strong mentors and a strong emphasis on education.


Ochoa first went to space in 1993; on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery.


She is now a STEM advocate and is always encouraging students to go into these fields of study.


At Valle Verde members of the community got the opportunity to hear Ochoa speak about her life, the challenges she faced and the benefits of a STEM major.


Some even got the chance to ask questions and speak with her directly.


The college’s annual Hispanic Heritage month celebration culminated with a special dinner in honor of Ochoa and two esteemed members of the El Paso community, Ouisa D. Davis, Attorney & Counselor at Law, and Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House.


​​During the dinner five EPCC students were awarded the Hispanic Heritage Scholarship. 


Ochoa humbly keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground, despite achieving the renowned status of being the first Hispanic woman to go to space. 



Photo courtesy

Dr. Ellen Ochoa is at the NASA mission control center.



She also received multiple other titles and awards, including NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.


“My dad was able to attend college tuition free by getting an appointment through the Naval Academy,” said Ochoa.


“My mom actually didn’t even graduate from high school as a teenager because she had some health issues that prevented her from going to school. It wasn’t until she was married where she actually got her high school equivalency.”


“Education really was the key to my career in space exploration and my family’s emphasis on education and learning, really made a big impact on me, my brothers and my sisters,” added Ochoa. “My mom actually ended up graduating from San Diego State University two years after I did.”


Going from the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, to the first Hispanic female in space was no easy task. Ochoa encountered many bumps along the road.


“I had taken a lot of math and it was really the math that got me interested in looking at a career or taking classes in engineering or science.


I went and spoke to one of the professors in the electrical engineering department and told him that I was interested in learning about his department,” explained Ochoa. 


“Well unfortunately, I clearly didn’t fit the picture that he had in his mind about what an electrical engineer should looked like."


He was not at all welcoming and he just told me that the course of study was really difficult.”


Her life changed for the better thanks to strong mentors taking an interest and encouraging her.


“Well, I got quite a different reaction when I went to talk to one of the professors in the physics department. First, he just seemed glad that I was interested in physics and happy to talk to me about it,” she added.


Her personal story about persevering through adversity and achieving success in the scientific community really struck a chord with her audience. 


“To me it is critical to promote diversity because as our keynote speaker mentioned, that’s how we improve, that’s how we become better than we were before,” explained Rocio Fierro-Perez, a recipient of the Hispanic


Heritage scholarship.


That’s what people like Ochoa strive for, for students and the younger generation to use education, to make the world a better place.


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