Living by “Sí Se Puede!” and Reaching For the Stars

By: Monica Ochoa

As a young Latina in my small community of Pico Rivera, I would spend my early years playing soccer on Sunday mornings, dancing to new Ricky Martin music with mi familia, and climbing on the roof of my house to lay down and look up at the stars. My mother would always ask me, “Moni, what do you want to be when you grow up? A dentist? A writer? A teacher? Anything you want to be, you can be by getting good grades and going to school. Like we always say, sí se puede!”

“One day, I hope to work for NASA on the Space Launch System and possibly become an astronaut for space exploration.” — Monica

My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and so I did not have many resources for school while growing up. I remember really enjoying math and science, and so naturally I decided that I wanted to be a STEM major. In high school, I was encouraged to be satisfied with just going to a local public college since I was an only child and would probably not get much financial aid. However, I wasn’t satisfied with that. The internet became my most helpful advisor when it came to learning how to apply for college and financial aid. As senior year began, I applied to 21 colleges, including public, private, local, and out of state institutions. By the end of April, I was blessed to get accepted into my dream school, the University of Notre Dame.

“I experienced a culture shock when I arrived to campus.”

Financially, the whole college package was very expensive. I had to apply to many scholarships in order to be able to afford college. My first year was very challenging, as I decided to major in Aerospace Engineering, taking rigorous math and science courses. I came from a low-income community with a high school that did not have a very strong science department. Compared to many of the other students at Notre Dame, I felt that I was at a disadvantage. I experienced a culture shock when I arrived to campus. All of a sudden, I would get weird looks while speaking Spanish on the phone with my parents and was constantly told that I had an accent. I later realized that I was the only female Latina in my Aerospace Engineering class.

The 2015–2016 Notre Dame Rocketry Team. “Be around people who motivate you and are willing to help you!” — Monica

Despite all these factors that might have hindered me, my mom always reminded me that I was no different from any other student there. I was accepted and plan to graduate in May of 2018. I embrace all the difficulties and challenges that I’ve faced and use them as ways to grow. Today, I am a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame studying Aerospace Engineering. I’m on the Notre Dame Rocket Team, and I am a strong advocate for minorities in STEM. One day, I hope to work for NASA on the Space Launch System and possibly become an astronaut for space exploration. Another goal of mine is to set up a scholarship fund for Latinos in STEM majors that come from underprivileged communities. I hope to inspire others, just as others have inspired me. To everyone that doubts that they can achieve their dreams, remember, “Sí se puede!”