Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez inspires Scecina students

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By Beth Murphy, Director of Marketing Communications

Jose Hernandez has traveled from his childhood on a migrant farm to space and back.  Traveling to Downtown Indianapolis to speak to high school students was an easy and fun journey.

Seventy Scecina students were among an estimated 1,500 other high schoolers from Central and Southern Indiana attending the Indiana Latino Institute’s Sixth Annual Education Summit and College and Career Fair, where Hernandez spoke on Nov. 20.

Astronaut with Scecina student

Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez and Scecina junior Matthew Morton

The summit’s emcee was Indianapolis TV news anchor Rafael Sanchez. Sanchez, a native of the Dominican Republic, asked where the students or their families were from, naming numerous countries from Honduras to Guatemala to Mexico. The high school audience showed its deep roots in Latino countries. Sanchez and Hernandez both switched easily between English and Spanish as they spoke to the students.

Hernandez was born in California but traveled back to Mexico for half of each year until he was in second grade. He spoke only Spanish until he was 12.  After watching the final Apollo mission to the moon in 1972, he told his papa he wanted to become an astronaut with NASA, an idea his father did not discourage or dismiss.

Hernandez earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and then applied to NASA for its astronaut training program. He was denied 11 times. He tried a 12th time and was accepted. In 2009 he flew on a 14-day space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

Hernandez’s message to the students is easy to understand in any language: “I followed my dreams as a Latino American, and you can too.”

Scecina students at Latino Institute's Education Summit

Scecina students at the Indiana Latino Institute’s Education Summit.

He sprinkled humor and motivation into his talk in Indianapolis, showing the students a slick biographical video that included some awkward teen years photos as well as cool footage of him floating in the spacecraft.

He clearly inspired the Scecina students. Many said they learned to persevere, no matter what their situation.

“We need to remember where we came from and that Latino is the future,” said senior Stephanie Garcia.

“I liked having people from different countries coming together to celebrate our similarities,” said sophomore Alejandro Mendoza.

Amy Fix, chair of Scecina’s World Language Department, said the students’ positive to reaction to Hernandez’s talk has inspired her to reach out to other successful Latinos in Indiana to speak to her students. Susana Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University, will speak at Scecina in February.


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