Meet the millennial engineer inspiring a new, more diverse generation of scientists

Emerald Pellot
·3 min read

Joan Melendez-Misner is a NASA systems integration engineer who’s using TikTok to inspire a new generation of Latinx scientists.

Growing up, Melendez-Misner saw the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — was dominated by men. She didn’t have many role models and wasn’t even a star math or science student herself. But eventually, she realized she didn’t have to be perfect to work at NASA.

Today she launches rockets at the Kennedy Space Center for the Launch Services Program.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of role models. Whenever I looked at scientists, I thought of mainly … white [men]. And there was not a lot of scientists that looked like me,” Melendez-Misner told In The Know.

Seeing the film Apollo 13 as a kid was a pivotal movement during her childhood.

“I saw Apollo 13 when I was younger,” she explained. “I saw how mission control was, and being able to sit in mission control, and being one of those engineers to say go for launch and then seeing the rocket launch to space.”

But in college, Misner questioned if she would ever be good enough to live her dreams. She failed several courses and suffered from imposter syndrome.

“When I thought of NASA, I thought that you needed to be really good at physics, really good at math, a 4.0 GPA. So I never thought that I would be able to end up working at NASA launching rockets,” she said.

When she started to talk to NASA engineers and other mentors, she persevered. She eventually graduated with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and chemistry and a master’s in systems engineering.

“I had a lot of really good mentors to help me along the way to apply to NASA positions,” she explained. “I applied to NASA 13 times. I got rejected. And it was that 14th time that I got that interview and got the position.”

Now Melendez-Misner is living her dream of being in that mission control room.

“The most rewarding thing for me has been to launch rockets,” she said. “The one that I recently did, launched on my birthday last year, which was the Sentinel-6, and that’s a satellite that’s currently orbiting Earth.”

Sentinel-6 is collecting data on the depths of our ocean and to help combat the climate crisis. Melendez-Misner also works with the nonprofit PASSAGE which launched a GoFundMe to provide aid in the STEM field to South America.

“What we’re trying to do is raise money to bring STEM supplies, school supplies and scientific kits to over 2,000 kids in the Caribbean and South America to inspire them to get into STEM as well,” she said.

The engineer is hoping to provide visibility for kids like her who grew up without role models in STEM.

“For me, being a change maker or inspiring the next generation is my ultimate goal,” Melendez-Misner said. “Whether I do it through social media, whether I do it through articles, interviews, or conferences, I feel honored that I’m able to inspire the next generation.”

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