In 1978, young girls across the country sat eagerly in front of televisions to see Sally Ride, the first American astronaut rocket to space and shatter one of the country’s most elevated glass ceilings. Among the girls watching Ride as she made history was Alba Colón a little girl born in Spain, raised in Puerto Rico with a newly planted desire to one day reach the stars too.
Ride’s mission to space inspired Colón to pursue a career in STEM so that she could one day become the world’s first Latina astronaut.
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“I was always interested in space,” Colón told CNN in an interview where she detailed how Ride’s mission to space brought her to the realization that she could actually be someone who could go there. “My model was Sally Ride. So I wanted to be like her. I used to have a poster of her in my room.” In her pursuit of a voyage to space, Colon went to college and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. But before she graduated, Colón’s desire to helm a NASA spacecraft took a bit of a detour.
After getting involved with the Society of Automotive Engineers at her university, Colón realized a new path for herself entirely. “I started to fall in love with vehicles and with the racing side,” Colón, now an engineer for NASCAR, explained.
After college, Colón joined General Motors as a data acquisitions engineer.
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For twenty years she has worked with the company’s NASCAR program, working her way up a cutthroat and rigorous ladder. Today, Colón acts as the lead engineer for Chevy Racing, a premier team in the world of auto racing.
In her role, the Latina oversees the technical resources of every NASCAR Sprint Cup Race team and manages a group that operates on a constant drive to improve the cars take part in races. With her help, GM has improved the design bodies, engine parts, and software of the cars that rip around race tracks, win championships and reel in devoted audiences from across the world.
As a Latina, Colón’s story makes her an impressive figure in the industry — in her own right.
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Women in the fields of science and engineering are a rare sight to be seen even in today’s age.
In general, women are severely underrepresented in STEM areas.
But when it comes to Latinas, the numbers are downright scary.
According to the National Science Foundation, only 28% of U.S. scientists and engineers actually working in the science and engineering realms are women. Latinas make up merely 1.8% of that population.
Knowledge of this disparity has pushed Colon to chase after a new goal. These days she has set her sights on inspiring children of color to get involved and interested in STEM spheres. As a representative of GM, she travels across the country to attend various diversity programs in an effort to encourage university and elementary students to build careers in both math and science fields.
“Many of these students, the examples they have at home is parents that didn’t finish school,” Colon shared. “So I want to show them hey, I am a Hispanic kid and I worked hard to get where I am. You can be like me. You don’t have to stop when you finish high school. You can keep going.”