One-on-One with theSkimm is a chance to introduce some of the incredible women in our community making an impact in the world. We'll be showcasing Skimm'rs from a variety of careers, religions, cultures, and political beliefs. This month for Hispanic Heritage Month, we're highlighting women making a difference in the Hispanic-Latino community and beyond.
I’m a communicator and story-teller, first-generation American, happy wife and mom of two amazing little boys. I have a dream job as NASA’s Associate Administrator of Communications, where I lead NASA’s communication efforts working alongside the most talented team in the universe. I’ve worked in the field of communications for about 20 years gaining experience in the public and private sector as well as in nonprofit and political communications.
I got my start in public relations when I was in middle school, when I managed media affairs for the annual gala held by my mom’s non-profit. The day after I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, DC and soon after started working for a member of Congress. That launched my career in political communications. By the time I was 25, I was running a nation-wide political organization. Most recently, I worked in public strategy and PR consulting for major tech companies, environmental causes, elected officials and clients in the entertainment business.
My passion has always been empowering women and underserved communities, including my own Hispanic community. My mother is a Cuban exile. My father an immigrant from Mexico. They both came to this country with nothing. My maternal grandfather was separated from his family for 14 years and served time as a political prisoner in Cuba, his only crime was having a different point of view and refusing to join the Communist party. I am grateful for everything this nation has given my family. The incredible opportunities and freedoms we have in America and how fortunate I’ve been in my career. I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my family.
I’m usually in a meeting planning one of the many incredible projects NASA has going, and remembering how I forgot to eat a normal lunch, again.
Always over deliver. When I was a teenager, early in my college career, I was excited to work in a public relations firm in South Beach who had high profile clients. While the work was fun, the boss was horrible and would often throw a dictionary at me when she didn’t like something I wrote. I quickly learned to a) dodge getting hit by a dictionary and b) work smarter to translate what she wanted into what she actually needed. I learned how to read the room and over deliver to get her what she really required for the project. But the best lesson of all was knowing my own self-worth. I very quickly quit that job and went somewhere that respected me and my hard work.
I love promoting NASA’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman on the moon. Our last mission to the moon, Apollo, was in the 1960’s – we just celebrated the 50th Anniversary this year. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon. We named the mission Artemis to recognize that this is the first mission that will take women to the lunar surface.
One of the best parts of my job is sharing with people how NASA technologies and discoveries improve our daily lives – from medical research performed on the International Space Station that could one day treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, or the satellites that give us TV and enable quick banking transactions, or the technology we used for Mars that gave us the cameras on your smartphone. Your selfie is brought to you by NASA!
Celia Cruz’s “Rie y Llora” or Willy Chirino’s “Lo que esta pa' ti.” These kind of encouraging, upbeat songs remind me of my family and who I am, and it makes me think that no matter what, they have my back. That gives me a boost of confidence.
My kids. I have two boys, two and four-years old. If they aren’t literally keeping me up, the “mom mental load” of worrying if their shoes are the right size, or if I RSVP’d to the 10th birthday party of the summer, or what project I have to turn in for school. The “mom mental load” is real and I’m sure other moms out there know exactly what I’m talking about.
Like many other women, I struggle to find time for self-care. My roles at NASA and as a mom are equally demanding, and I have to remind myself that it’s ok to take a time out.
To be more successful, I had to really hone my emotional intelligence. Being able to read other people has been the key to turning around critical situations for better outcomes.
Empowering others to be the best version of themselves. I try to do this with my kids, my co-workers, and my team. It’s a balance of giving people strategic direction but giving them enough leeway to carve their own path to solutions. It can be challenging and a lot of work, but ultimately they will thank you for it. I have had many people along the way do this for me, and it shapes who you are as a person.
I had a strong creative and curious spirit. I regularly wrote songs and plays and forced my brother to act them out with me in front of our family. As a child, I wanted to be President of the United States, until I learned of the dangers of the office. My father was a science teacher in Mexico and he had stacks of National Geographic magazines all around the house, and I remember many hours of leafing through them and learning about the world. My mom was a journalist in her youth. I soon wanted to be a journalist and first started writing for the school paper in 7th grade. I’ve been communicating ever since.
Both. I am probably talking about space and the evils of communism. No topic is off limits for me – especially politics. I am proud that I come from people who weren’t afraid to say what they believe in, yet understand that freedom means having diverse opinions. Growing up in a family of political exiles, politics is usually the focus of every conversation.
Sadly, breaking negative Hispanic stereotypes. Some assume that I grew up in the “ghetto” and I’ve been called Maria more times than I’d like to admit. Sometimes people see me and only see a Latina. I know I have to work harder than most to prove my experience and talent in my field.
A month to celebrate the incredible achievements made by our community. It’s not just the achievements of famous people and celebrities, but the victories of everyday humans too, like our moms and dads. Especially for many of us first-generation Americans, our success is the purpose of their sacrifices.
Science, Technology, Education and Freedom!
When we talk about investing in the future and protecting future generations, space and science need to be a bigger part of that conversation. NASA’s incredible achievements in science and discovery not only advance humanity but inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. If America wants to continue to be the world leader in technology and innovation, we need more STEM professionals and to fully support science and exploration.
Space unites people. It gives our nation a sense of national pride and allows our country to collaborate with the world in space exploration. We need to unify so humanity can take its next giant leap into deep space. Many spinoff technologies adapted from NASA research directly impact and improve life on Earth.
My true passion is freedom - free markets, personal liberties and human rights. My family’s experience surviving communism shows me that a vibrant free market and conscious capitalism ensure more free societies, political inclusion, respectful discourse and expanded opportunities for all citizens. Every day I am grateful that I was born an American, granted with unique privileges from birth not available to most people in the world.
Take charge of your journey. You don’t have to know exactly where you are going, but you need to know what to ask for. Be proactive in building your network, because you never know who or what will lead you to your big break. Communications is a huge diverse field of opportunity, and the skills of a good public relations or public affairs person are applicable in almost any organization. My career has taken me so many places working for such a large variety of people, which has shown me that truly everyone needs a great press person.
Right now at NASA, we are making historic progress every day with the Artemis and Mars missions. It is a huge privilege to be a part of a new generation of NASA that will take us farther into the universe than people have ever been before. I hope that we leave a strong legacy of public engagement with NASA, so that Americans know how hard we are working on their behalf and how important these achievements are for the world.
Note: This interview has been edited for length. All opinions expressed by the interviewee are their own.
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