There’s always space in STEM and Sci Comm. Just look at Aerospace Engineer Joan Melendez-Misners!
Joan Melendez-Misners is a Mission Integration Engineer for the Launch Services Program at NASA and science communicator.
Growing up in Orlando, Joan was always familiar with NASA but didn’t realize her own interest in STEM until college. Her NAVAIR internship led to a career as an engineer working on fighter jets with the Department of Defense and provided the opportunity to move from chemistry into mechanical and aerospace engineering. Before landing her dream job at NASA, Joan was a Launch Integration Systems Engineer for Blue Origin! Joan continues to share her love of space as a Solar System Ambassador for JPL, where she gets to do community outreach.
Joan is passionate about advocating for STEM inclusion. Joan became the first in her family to graduate from college when she earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. She also has a Master’s Degree in Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.
As one of the few Latinas in her engineering programs, Joan took to Sci Comm to inspire more women, especially women of color, to go into STEM. That’s why Joan is committed to being the down-to-earth, visible, and fun engineer all science communicators strive to be.
As a volunteer, Joan has helped introduce girls and women to STEM. Currently, Joan is involved with Engineering Gals — a community of women engineers advocating for STEM. Beyond her community outreach, Joan is a member of Passage working with other science communicators to bring STEM education supplies to students in South America and the Caribbean.
How did you get into STEM?
I did not get into STEM until I was a sophomore in college. I always enjoyed math and science, but I also had a passion for music (I played clarinet throughout middle and high school). At first, I wanted to be a doctor and help those in need. However, I interned at a local hospital’s emergency room and quickly realized it was not for me. It wasn’t until I met my university’s guidance counselor that helped me steer my goals to Chemical Engineering/Chemistry. From there, I was an intern for NAVAIR and I was hooked!
Who inspires you in STEM?
I follow so many inspiring young professionals in STEM on social media that I completely look up to. If you go to Engineering Gals, you will find a network of inspiring women in STEM. Also, growing up, even though I never thought I would study engineering, The Mercury 13 women, whom I learned about in high school, were very inspiring, as well as Ruth Bader Ginsberg (although not in STEM, still a role model), and Ellen Ochoa.
How did you get started with sci comm?
This is a really good question, and to be honest I don’t have a good answer. I started posting more “STEM” related content on my instagram over a year and a half ago and I never thought so many people would be interested in what I do. I started posting just STEM related content this past year, and I started friending and following other SciCommers that I admire and started reaching out for advice. I started doing webinars, conferences, and collaborating more and it just kind of landed in my lap from there.
I will say that I am so thankful and happy that I discovered this passion. I truly like what I do and I hope that I am making a difference in someone’s life. My main goal with my SciComm platform is to show that these jobs that people dream of (NASA engineer, etc) are attainable and the people that work there are just normal people like you and me. I too love Netflix, play board games, play sports, and just like to relax with a good book.
You have dual bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering! What was that like?
It was not as hard as you may think. At the University of Maryland, they have several colleges under their umbrella, and Towson University was one of them. I went to Towson University for 3.5 years and finished my main Chemistry courses and then I was able to transfer to the University of Maryland main campus to take my engineering courses.
How did you decide to become an aerospace engineer?
I was an intern for Naval Air Systems Command while I was getting my bachelor’s degree and I had the opportunity to not only work in the Chemistry lab qualifying biofuels for the Navy, but I was able to work on Navy jets/helicopters. After I graduated I liked working more on the aerospace side than in the Chemistry lab. I was given the opportunity to have more of an Aerospace/Mechanical engineering role and from then on I was hooked.
What has your experience been like as a latina in STEM?
It was an eye opening experience. The Chemistry/Chemical Engineering department at my university was probably the most diverse out of all of the engineering majors. Our classes consisted of 60/40 male to female ratio, which was higher than other disciplines; however, the latina population was even less. I believe I only had 4 latina’s in my engineering classes. So it was both a good and eye opening experience. Which is why I wanted to spend my time as a professional (outside of work) inspiring more women, and women of color, to go into STEM careers.
How did you overcome imposter syndrome?
I recently made a TikTok video on this topic. I will sometimes have flashes of imposter syndrome creep into my mind, but I just have to remind myself that I am here because I worked hard to be here.
What’s it like to work at NASA?
It is a dream. I pinch myself on a daily basis. I grew up in Orlando, so the space coast was always easily accessible to me. However, I never really thought I could work there and I also thought you had to be a genius to even be considered. Now that I work at NASA, I have a different perspective. NASA is very attainable if you work hard and keep on trying to land a job. I applied 13 times before I got an interview and eventually landed the job. The people at NASA are very smart, but what makes them stand out is their passion for space and space exploration. I think the thing I love most about working for NASA is the people and the collective sense of pride for working on something that is bigger than yourself.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
Wow, I have had so many amazing experiences. I think one of my favorites was getting the chance to work on a Navy carrier and go out to sea for 5 days. That was a once in a lifetime experience to get to talk to the sailors themselves and ask how I, as an engineer working on their equipment, can make their lives easier.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
It is not as hard to achieve as you may think. People think that STEM degrees are hard and that you need a perfect GPA to get a job in the field. I am here to tell you that you don’t. As a Chemistry major, I failed Organic Chemistry and I am not ashamed to admit it. Failure is just a stepping stone to success. We have to normalize failure and say it is ok. Just don’t give up and keep working towards your goal, you will get there!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“Network to Get Work.” I live my life thinking about this quote. I went to a NASA Social, for the DEMO-1 launch, last year in 2019. After touring NASA and talking to the NASA engineers, I knew it was my time to move over. I kept in contact with them, asked for advice, etc. They would send me upcoming job postings and give me resume help. I truly believe that networking can help you get on the right path. Which is another reason I am so open on social media. If you need resume help, I got you. If you need someone to give career advice, I got you. A lot of people helped me along the way to help me get to where I am, I definitely want to extend the hand out to anyone who was in my position several years ago.