I was a diligent student in school who loved the challenge of math and always ensured I maintained good grades. I was driven by the dream of working with the experts at the National Weather Service’s (NWS) San Juan Forecast Office. Upon graduation, it was time to apply to college and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. However, to my surprise, there were no meteorology degrees available in Puerto Rico. Devastated, yet undaunted, I had to rethink my college choices. I started on the social sciences path at the University of Puerto Rico, but quickly realized that I was not enjoying those classes. Seeking something that aligned with my skills, I changed to a degree in mathematics which turned out to be the best choice I could have made. I struggled with the chemistry classes, but enjoyed my calculus, physics and especially differential equations. I pushed myself beyond what I thought my capabilities were. I enrolled in the harder classes, and had some doubt and stumbles along the way. But I sought help from the professors when I needed it and they were always there to reassure me and encourage me.
While in college, I found out about a group doing weather and climate research and quickly joined them. Through them I learned about weather, modeling, and research and attended my first conference. I also learned about other opportunities such as graduate school and summer internships which turned out to be the key turning point in my career path. The upcoming summer I was admitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Educational Partnership Program - Undergraduate Scholarship Program. With this scholarship, I was able to intern in two different NOAA facilities for 10 weeks during the summer. One was the Environmental Modeling Center in Maryland, and the other one in the Hurricane Research Division (HRD) in Florida. During this time I was also admitted to the graduate program in Atmospheric Sciences at Howard University in Washington, DC. Finally, my dreams were becoming reality.
I returned to HRD for two additional summers while pursuing my graduate degree, also participated in internships at the National Science Foundation and the NWS Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office, and spent 30 days at sea in a NOAA research cruise. All these experiences were a great foundation for my first full time job with the Department of the Navy at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division as a Research Meteorologist. There I worked on modeling and observations of the low levels of the atmosphere and also set up weather stations at Navy facilities during testing of new radar technologies, among other tasks. I then returned to the NWS Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office, but this time as a full time meteorologist where I would do weather forecasts, give briefings and interviews, issue watches and warnings, and plan or attend outreach events for the community and our media partners. This was my dream job since I was a child, a different location but with the same mission, and I was on the top of the world.
Around the same time I began working on my non-profit organization Semilla Cultural (semillacultural.org) or “cultural seed”, to promote and preserve the Afro-Puerto Rican genre known as ‘bomba’. Bomba, a combination of dancing, singing, & percussion, is important to me as it gives me a vehicle to bring Latin culture and positivity to the forefront of society. Through this adventure I developed and polished leadership and other soft skills that would be useful in my scientific career path. Still growing and always looking for more challenges, I decided to apply for a position at the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research as a Management and Program Analyst for which I was hired. In this role I manage critical programs, lead people, am involved in the science policy process, and perform research and development analysis. It is yet another step in my journey and I am enjoying every minute of it.
Being rooted in public service, there are several things that set the meteorology field apart. One of these is the schedule and it can be difficult for some. While in the NWS Forecast Office, I worked on a rotating shift schedule, meaning that I did not have a consistent schedule. Sometimes working weekends, holidays and overnight shifts was challenging, especially as a mother of two little girls. There are also challenges that you get as a forecaster with the rapidly changing weather and the high pace push to get information and warnings out immediately. But that stress also brings a great feeling of satisfaction from serving the community and partners. That gratification is invaluable and simply irreplaceable.
The public service aspect of the meteorology field also brings about cultural matters, especially when your culture allows you to see things differently and you can identify barriers. Many of us come from an area where English is the second language, and I am no exception. While at the forecast office I noticed there were no services or collaborations with the Hispanic community. I used my cultural knowledge and took the initiative to connect with local Spanish media, attended Hispanic community events, and created a website with weather and safety information in Spanish (weather.gov/lwx/espanol). Now this community has access to hazardous weather and safety information in their own language (with still things to improve). In this instance, being a Latina in STEM paid off. The diversity I brought to the team removed a barrier from part of the citizens we serve.
One thing that was immediately apparent in the workforce was the lack of diversity in this field, particularly females, and especially Latinas. I am a strong believer that representation inspires youth. You can show them that someone like them can achieve what you have, and make them feel welcome into this field. Also, having a more diverse workforce can harvest diverse solutions and ultimately improve services (published studies have demonstrated this). I enjoy doing my part to inspire Latinas through outreach. I cherish the opportunity to visit schools or events where others can see and listen to the experiences of Latina woman scientist. Being able to speak and answer questions provide experiences that, both the community and I will never forget, even more when they can identify with you.
My path has not been straightforward, I have doubted myself and my decisions, and I have struggled. But I suppressed those doubts and I remained focused on my goal of becoming a meteorologist. My journey has been supported and inspired by amazing leaders, colleagues and mentors in the field, and by my family and friends as well. To them, I owe a lot for who and where I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful. As a Latina, I am committed to my purpose of paying it forward through mentoring and serving the community through science and culture. It is my goal to see many other women, especially Latina women, in this field.