Scarlin Hernandez: Being a space engineer offers a chance to make history, inspire others

June 26, 2018
Scarlin Hernandez, Capitol Tech graduate, in front of the James Webb Telescope

Space science is poised to take another great leap – and Scarlin Hernandez is helping to make it happen.

A 2013 graduate of Capitol Technology University, Hernandez is a spacecraft engineer for NASA’s signature space mission, the James Webb Space Telescope. An important part of her work is to test the ground systems that will command and control the telescope after it has been launched into space.

She is making history in other ways too, as a woman engineer from a minority background in a field that has often struggled to achieve diversity. Recently, the online magazine Remezcla named her among 10 Latinas making their mark on STEM. In 2017, the Society for Women Engineers (SWE) spotlighted her work in a special feature marking Hispanic Heritage Month; the previous year, NASA featured her in a video presentation.

Even before graduating from college, Hernandez had already racked up significant accomplishments in the space engineering field. Awarded a full scholarship by the National Science Foundation (NSF), she interned at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and was on the ground control system team for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). She went on to become the mission planning lead for TRMM before moving to the JWST.

Hernandez keeps a busy schedule, supplementing the intense demands of her work with exercise and meditation, and making sure to keep family time in the mix. We recently caught up with her and asked if she could share her experiences, interests, and advice for young people considering a career related to space.

How did you decide to become a spacecraft engineer? What got you interested in the astronautical engineering field?

I actually graduated with a degree in computer engineering, and I never thought that someone like me, and with my background, could ever work for NASA. That's what society wanted me to believe. I decided not to listen and go after my dream unapologetically. 

Quickly after starting my internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center through the Space Operations Institute, SOI, I fell in love with spacecraft and the idea that humans could build and operate such incredible technologically-advanced satellites to help the world discover the unknown.

What are some of the things you find most exciting and rewarding about being a spacecraft engineer?

What I find most exciting is being able to be a part of world history! Also being able to inspire others no matter what age, sex or background is very rewarding! 

What would you tell kids and high school students about the field? What would you like them to know about it?

Continue learning across multiple subsystems so that you can see the big picture. Being able to understand the flow of how things work and how systems are interconnected is very valuable and will help you in the long run! 

Follow your intuition. If you're onto a new idea stick with it through the end. Your passion often times becomes your success. 

Why did you choose Capitol for your studies?

I chose Capitol for many reasons, but what was most important to me was the hands-on experience the college was able to provide the students. When I was awarded a full scholarship by the National Science Foundation it sealed the deal!

What were some of the things you found particularly valuable about Capitol?

The most valuable program during my time at Capitol was the Space Operations Institute (SOI). It's one of the main reasons I am able to work for a NASA contractor today. It was an instrumental part of my career as an aerospace engineer. Another great thing about Capitol is the small class size! You are able to focus easier and can ask for help without interruption.

Could you tell us about future career plans and goals for the long-term?

In the near future, I would like to pursue a master’s degree in project management and continue to do STEM outreach.

What are some of your interests, hobbies, and activities outside of your professional life?

I like to spend a lot of time with family. I like to dance! I like to work out! I also think that meditation is very important.

If there is one message you could relay to the world, what would it be?

You are truly in control of your own destiny. I'm a Hispanic female who grew up in poverty and abuse, but I'm also an engineer that works on a NASA mission. Don't listen to the naysayers. Go for what you want and don't stop until you get it. No matter your background or your circumstance -- crawl, walk, run and jump towards your dream! As long as you don’t give up one day it will be yours, and all the hard work will pay off. And another thing -- don't be afraid of being the first at something! You're worth it, and the world needs you!