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Young women need strong female role models—and Evelyn Miralles is one

March 23, 2015

Ever since early schooling, Evelyn Miralles has tackled the question of how to pursue and learn about science and technology. Now that she is a Principal Engineer and lead innovator in the Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory and a NASA employee of 23 years, she is respected not only for the breakthroughs in her work, but also for her outreach to inspire girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 
 
Miralles holds two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and computer graphics, as well as a Master of Business Administration in management of technology.
 
She’s won the Outstanding Employee Performance Award, as well as the Flight Safety Award presented by the Astronaut Crew Office. Miralles has been recognized for her contribution to “Wings in Orbit,” a book about the legacy of the Space Shuttle Program.
 
Her work in the VR Lab has also garnered awards for virtual reality software. Miralles earned recognition for Outstanding Flight Software for Dynamic Onboard Ubiquitous Graphics (DOUG), flight software that has been used to train astronauts for every space shuttle and International Space Station mission since 2000. Throughout her successful career, one of her favorite contributions was the co-writing of DOUG.
 
“Developing DOUG was fundamental for training and opened the doors to a system that improved mission planning and enhanced astronaut performance,” Miralles said.
 
Miralles has also received the Exceptional Award for Innovation for the creation and design of the Engineering DOUG Graphics for Exploration (EDGE) software, which is used in research facilities around the country.
 
Although Miralles is the only female on the VR Lab team, she has contributed to a productive work environment centered on collaboration regardless of gender.
 
“Working in the VR Lab requires teamwork, and I have experienced the importance of everyone working together,” Miralles said.
 
The work at the VR Lab is constantly evolving to enhance the space program—often under short and critical deadlines.
 
“I profoundly appreciate the intelligence, creativity and friendship of our team,” Miralles said. “It is an enjoyable and respectful environment to progress as an individual.”
 
There are three things which Miralles abides by in her own career. “First, to be sure you know your subject and be open to learning new things,” Miralles said. “Second, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The third is having a positive outlook about work pressures while being a dynamic thinker.”
 
Miralles believes middle school is the most crucial time in a young woman’s educational life, because that time influences a girl’s confidence in her abilities to enter STEM fields. 
 
“All students need to be nurtured, and I would like to see girls encouraged to discover their inherent capabilities, skills and interests,” Miralles said. “They need to be nurtured even through times of failure.” 
 
Miralles participates in many outreach events, including science fairs and lectures, to inspire young girls to enroll in STEM fields. She was recently invited to be a judge for the Mars Rover Competition at the University of Houston, in which she was one of the few female judges. At the event, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti called Miralles’ cell phone from the space station. As she was judging one of the teams, she shared the call with the students.

“The girls’ eyes sparkled,” Miralles said. “They could not believe I was actually talking to somebody living in space.”
 
Only about 20 percent of the event teams were comprised of girls, and Miralles said this may be due to girls not being encourage to pursue science.
 
“I believed I may have inspired a few of them to be engineers or explorers,” Miralles said. “Who knows? But my personal feeling of sharing that call with them was indescribable. I think that what I’ve seen in helping girls is that they need to have more influential role models, and not give up on STEM careers because it is unpopular or difficult. Girls need to realize that they can embrace their intellectual capabilities, challenge themselves and be feminine ... all at the same time.”
 
Miralles’ example inspires young women to enter competitive fields in STEM and master skills to have professional careers in science and applied technologies.
 
“There is so much beauty in science when you learn what science does in everyday life,” Miralles said.

 
Anna Seils
NASA Johnson Space Center
Evelyn Miralles, a 23-year NASA veteran in the VR Lab at Johnson Space Center. Image Credit: NASA
Evelyn Miralles, a 23-year NASA veteran in the VR Lab at Johnson Space Center. Image Credit: NASA
Miralles in a full-scale Soyuz mock-up. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles in a full-scale Soyuz mock-up. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles taking in the last space shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center in 2011. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles taking in the last space shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center in 2011. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles at work in the VR Lab. Image courtesy of Prospect TV.
Miralles at work in the VR Lab. Image courtesy of Prospect TV.
Miralles mentoring kids and participating as a judge at the Mars Rover Celebration at the University of Houston. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles mentoring kids and participating as a judge at the Mars Rover Celebration at the University of Houston. Image courtesy of Miralles.
Miralles receives the Flight Safety Silver Snoopy Award in 2012. Image Credit: NASA
Miralles receives the Flight Safety Silver Snoopy Award in 2012. Image Credit: NASA