Hispanic Leaders at Johnson, White Sands Share Career Guidance
Professional development and career advancement were the focus of an insightful panel discussion hosted by NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Sept. 21, 2023, as part of the center’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Organized by Johnson’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group (HERG) in coordination with Women Excelling in Life and Leadership and NASA contractor Jacobs’ Hispanic employee network, Enlace, the panel featured several distinguished Hispanic leaders reflecting on their own careers and sharing how entry- to mid-level staff can excel to senior positions.
- Arturo Sanchez, director of Johnson’s External Relations Office
- Jose C. Garcia, director of procurement and procurement officer for Johnson
- Jackelynne Silva-Martinez, Ph.D., Artemis mission integrator
- Raul Blanco, chief of NASA’s Crew and Thermal Systems Division
- Susana A. Harper, manager of Materials Flight Acceptance Standard Testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility
- Jose Barreda, deputy director of operations and test at Jacobs
Alma Stephanie Tapia, a materials engineer supporting the Gateway program, served as panel moderator.
Johnson’s Associate Director for Vision and Strategy Douglas Terrier provided opening remarks for the panel, noting his own Caribbean origins and acknowledging the major contributions NASA’s Hispanic and Latino workforce have made to the agency’s mission and success. Terrier urged attendees to be conscious of the historical role everyone at NASA has an opportunity to play and to remember that they are shaping the next generation of humanity’s future in space.
As the discussion began, the panelists agreed that while they have encountered some biases against Hispanics outside of NASA, they have not experienced similar challenges in the workplace due to the value the agency places on different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. Blanco noted the importance of committing to a diversity of ethnicities and origins at all levels of the organization, but also a diversity of experiences. He shared the example of how his division’s soft goods team used to work primarily with former military parachuters, but now works mostly with fashion designers and garment apparel experts, who bring an entirely different set of solutions to the table.
The ability to propose solutions and not just flag problems was one skill panelists agreed is important to professional success, along with being open and adaptable to change, having confidence in yourself and your abilities, and being a good communicator. Harper observed that caring deeply for the community and bringing everyone in is a core part of Hispanic culture, and that helps Hispanic employees become excellent leaders and communicators.
When asked what advice they would give to a younger version of themselves, panelists spoke about the importance of pushing beyond your comfort zone. Sanchez shared that earlier in his career, he limited himself by saying he only wanted to do the things he was good at and was the most interested in. Putting yourself in a position that forces you to do and think about other things expands your skillset, he said, and is essential to equipping you with the tools to become an effective leader. Garcia emphasized that employees need to get on the radar of their superiors if they want to advance in their careers. One way to do so is to learn your job, then learn everything about your job, and then start to learn about the other things that touch your job, he said, because this eventually makes you a subject matter expert who brings something to the table that no one else can. Silva-Martinez added that the Hispanic culture tends to be less outspoken, with Hispanic employees thinking they will get noticed if they just do good work. She advised listeners to be their own advocates and speak out about what they want in their careers, instead of waiting for their supervisor to do it for them.
Watch the panel discussion below.