Community Invited to Hear From Former NASA Astronaut José Hernández At Hancock March 28; Free Event Targets Launching the Next Generation of Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians

He had a dream to become an astronaut while he was working in the fields and made it a reality

Mar. 16, 2017 --With his own dreams realized, José Hernández, a former astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), will help launch the dreams of others on the Central Coast. Hernández will speak at Allan Hancock College on Tuesday, March 28, from 12:30 - 2 p.m. inside Joe White Memorial Gymnasium on the Santa Maria Campus. “Launching the Next Generation” is co-sponsored by Allan Hancock College and the Multilingual & Migrant Education Programs of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. Admission to the event is free. Visitors are asked to be in their seats by 12:15 p.m.

“José Hernández is the kind of person we want our students to learn from and be inspired by,” said Nohemy Ornelas, associate superintendent and vice president of Student Services at Allan Hancock College. “He had a dream when he was working in the fields to become an astronaut, and he achieved it. He is a perfect example that education is the way to launch a career.”

The goal of the event is to inspire students and ignite their desire to achieve something great - to propel them to the stars and beyond. Organizers want to spark students’ interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, especially those groups that are underrepresented in the STEM fields. 

“The slogan in the Multilingual Migrant Education Program is Unlocking Potential – Shaping Futures,” said María Laríos-Horton, director of Multilingual and Migrant Education Programs with the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. “We believe every student is a mathematician, a scientist, an engineer, and even an astronaut. Events like this help to inspire and reveal for students their own potential.”

Hernández is one of four children of a migrant farming family from Mexico. He learned to speak English at the age of 12, and while in high school, he participated in Upward Bound, a federal college preparedness program. While majoring in electrical engineering at the University of the Pacific, he participated in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, an academic program that supports students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds while they pursue their four-year degrees. He went on to earn a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering from UC Santa Barbara.

“We feel it is incredibly important for our students to hear success stories, and listen to people who faced similar obstacles in their lives and persevered,” said Ornelas.

“Our students and visitors should leave the event believing the sky, or in this case, the universe is the limit. Anything is possible, even if English is not a person’s first language,” added Laríos-Horton.

In 2001, Hernández joined Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as an engineer in the Materials and Processes branch. NASA selected him in 2004 for Astronaut Candidate Training. By February 2006, he completed the training, and in fall 2009 was a crewmember of the STS-128 Discovery, NASA's 128th shuttle mission and its 30th mission to the International Space Station (ISS). With the assistance of robotics operations, he oversaw the transfer of more than 18,000 pounds of equipment between the shuttle and the ISS. While aboard the ISS, he sent the first tweet in Spanish from outer space.

The event is free and open to the public. Parking inside Lot 4, which is next to building N where Joe White Memorial Gymnasium is located, will be free the day of the event. For more information or to register, visit

 - AHC -

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Last Modified Jul 3, 2017