Esparanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage & Hope

 

SAIC recognizes National Hispanic Heritage Month

 

National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and recognizes several Latin American independence days. During the time we recognize and celebrate the contributions that people tracing their roots to Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean have made to American society and culture. To commemorate, observe, and recognize Hispanic heritage within SAIC, we are highlighting a number of our professionals and the positive impact they make for our company and customers.

Our featured SAIC Hispanic professionals are sage experts in their respective fields as well as talented up-and-comers, spanning many walks of life. Within their backgrounds, experience, and traits, they speak to their passion for their culture and how it relates to their professional work and their communities. SAIC is proud to feature these professionals who bring so much to the growth and culture of our organization.

 


Juan Román-Velázquez

Director of Space Science and Engineering, SAIC National Security and Space Sector

Dr. Juan Román-Velázquez is an accomplished engineer with demonstrated success in leading innovative technical organizations. Before his current position at SAIC, he served as a senior executive in the Engineering and Technology Directorate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Throughout his 32-year career, Román-Velázquez has held multiple technical and leadership positions, each one encompassing greater visibility and responsibility. He is highly skilled in the management of technical organizations with the responsibility to establish and maintain a world-class capability for accomplishing cross-cutting engineering functions, focusing on Earth and space sciences, human exploration, and space technology. Román-Velázquez has a B.S. with honors in mechanical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, an M.S. in engineering management and systems engineering from the University of Maryland Global Campus, and a D.Sc. in systems engineering and technology management from George Washington University. One of Román-Velázquez's other passions is horseback riding, and he owns a Paso Fino horse.

 

What does it mean to have grown up in the Hispanic/Latino community?

I was born in Puerto Rico and was the youngest of three siblings. We grew up in a very loving and devoted Christian family with many relatives nearby. I have several cousins, all within a 10-year age difference. We spent most of our time together at school, having fun, and creating lifelong memories that I will never forget. Family is a very strong part of our culture.

How has your Hispanic/Latino background influenced your professional career?

My father owned and drove a taxi, and my mother was a seamstress. My parents worked very hard to provide us with everything that we needed. Even though my parents had only elementary school education, they always encouraged me to reach for the stars and follow my dream to be an engineer. They were role models and inspired me to work hard and be an example to others.

Do you have any advice for fellow Hispanic/Latin Americans starting in your field?

The space industry is incredibly diverse. It provides many opportunities for everyone interested in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM); computer science; and information technology. My advice is to work hard, follow your dreams, help others to excel, and be the best you can be in everything you do. Don’t let others bring you down, and never give up.

What is a unique struggle that you have faced as a Hispanic/Latino professional, and how did you overcome it?

Continue learning, improve your performance, and impress with your work. Network and interact with people within and outside of the company. The more people know who you are and the values and skills you bring, the greater your opportunity for promotion. Find a mentor that can give you guidance and advice about your work and career decisions.

How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?

Being an example, a mentor, and a role model to others. I volunteer at local schools and give motivational talks to students in STEM-related fields. I also promote an environment that is conducive to the recognition, appreciation, and full utilization of each person’s abilities, skills, and knowledge to achieve their full potential.

Are there any Hispanic/Latin American figures that influenced your upbringing and professional career?

My brother Felix has been a great influence and role model to me. When he was studying chemistry, he had a friend that was studying engineering. Every time my brother and his friends talked about the classes they were taking and the problems they were assigned to solve, I was hypnotized listening to them. I became fascinated with engineering. Combined with my passion for space exploration, my goal became to work in the space field.

Do you have any general advice for fellow Hispanic/Latin Americans?

Be proud of your Hispanic/Latin American culture. Not all Hispanics/Latinos are the same and there are sometimes significant differences amongst us. Nonetheless, we all share similar cultural values, even though we have distinct tastes and sounds. Altogether, we are a beautiful cultural mosaic. Be resilient and never lose hope!


Kimberly Castro

Senior Systems Engineering and Technical Support for Launch Enterprise Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center of United States Space Force, SAIC National Security and Space Sector

Kimberly Castro grew up in a Mexican American household hoping someday to become the first Mexican American woman astronaut. Castro earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. After graduation, she was hired as a propulsion analyst at Boeing Satellite Systems and found her calling working in satellite operations. Castro went on to complete her master’s degree in systems engineering from the University of Southern California. After 25 years in the aerospace industry, she could not be happier supporting satellite, launch, and ground system technological advancements in support of the United States Space Force.

 

What does it mean to have grown up in a Hispanic community?

The Hispanic community is deeply rooted in faith, traditions, and family values. Growing up in the Hispanic culture has helped me learn how to value life and how important it is to keep traditions alive across generations. I was raised practicing several Hispanic traditions that I enjoy practicing now with my family. This is important to me now more than ever since my parents have passed on. I feel like this is a way of honoring my parents and my heritage in hopes that my children will carry these traditions forward.

What is a unique struggle that you have faced as a Hispanic/Latina professional, and how did you overcome it?

Although I was raised Mexican American, I did not grow up speaking Spanish. I have to admit that I am still learning the language and practicing with my husband, who was born and raised in El Salvador. This ended up becoming a unique struggle for me early in my professional career. While working for Boeing, I had to travel to Mexico City a couple of times to help train our customers on how to operate their satellite propulsion system. I had to present complex training materials in English in hopes that their English-speaking engineering team members could understand and translate and communicate the information to the Spanish-speaking members. This was a difficult situation for me because I have Latina features and my name is of Spanish descent. The Mexico City team of engineers assumed I could speak Spanish. They were quite disappointed that I did not know the language well enough to communicate fully with them. On my last trip to Mexico City, the team had more respect for me, as I attempted to learn more of the language, but it also helped that I brought a Spanish-speaking colleague with me to ensure that the whole team was included in the training and operation of their system.

How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?

I will be celebrating by proactively engaging with SAIC’s Multicultural Employee Resource Group, enjoying Mexican food, and helping my children learn about and pay tribute to Hispanics that have made a big impact in the community.

Are there any Hispanic/Latin American figures that influenced your upbringing and professional career?

My parents influenced my upbringing and professional career the most. Raising us on a single-family income, my parents managed to send me and two siblings through 12 years of Catholic schooling, which helped us grow in our faith while obtaining the best education that they felt they could give us at the time. They enforced the value of education and supported us in obtaining professional careers in fields that aligned with our interests and strengths. My husband, who is also an engineer in the aerospace industry, is the other Hispanic figure that has shaped my professional career. We have been married for over 20 years, and he has willingly supported my crazy work hours and travel schedule while helping to keep the family unit intact. He has encouraged me to pursue some great engineering opportunities that have helped shape who I am today.


Josue Alvarado

Systems Engineer for Undersea/Training, SAIC Defense and Civilian Sector

Josue Alvarado was born in Van Nuys, California, and raised in Hope, Arkansas. Both of his parents were born in El Salvador, making him a second-generation Hispanic in his family. He is a systems engineer associate in SAIC's undersea/training organization, working on advanced training domain testing.

 

What is a unique struggle that you have faced as a Hispanic/Latino, and how did you overcome it?

A struggle in my household growing up was the language barrier between my parents and I. My first language was English, and then I later learned to speak Spanish. By my parents teaching me Spanish and I teaching them English, we were able to overcome the language barrier.

Are there any Hispanic/Latin American figures that influenced your upbringing and professional career?

A strong influence in my life and career is my mom. Growing up and hearing her tell me about the sacrifices she made to strive for a better life has had a major influence on my career. Remembering those stories pushes me to do my best every day.

Do you have any advice for fellow Hispanic/Latino members?

Do not be afraid to ask questions! Regardless of any barriers that there might be when in doubt, ask the question as you see appropriate.

How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?

This year I will be celebrating by teaching my nephews more about the Hispanic community. I also look forward to sharing stories with my colleagues, friends, and loved ones.


Alva Ochoa

Program Control Manager for U.S. Air Force and its commands and agencies, SAIC National Security and Space Sector

Alva Ochoa is a native of El Salvador who now lives in Loudoun County, Virginia, with her husband and their three girls. This year she celebrated her 15th anniversary with SAIC. She has held various roles within SAIC's accounting and finance organizations.

 

What does it mean to have grown up in the Hispanic/Latin American community?

Growing up in a Hispanic community means many things to me. I learned the value of family is a key to success. I learned that goals can be attainable but requires determination and the ability to listen to your inner voice when outside voices are telling you otherwise.

How has your Hispanic/Latina background influenced your professional career?

My Hispanic background has influenced my professional career by giving me the drive to succeed. It has allowed me to see things from a different angle and to be a better coach and mentor to my fellow team members. I enjoy learning, and a personal goal of mine is to learn something new every day that I can successfully apply at work or in my personal life.

How will you be celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?

This year we took our girls to my native land of El Salvador for the first time to give them some exposure to our Hispanic culture. This was our way to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month this year.

Do you have any advice for fellow Hispanic/Latin Americans starting in your field?

A piece of advice I would give fellow Hispanic members just starting out in this field is to always keep a positive attitude. Be your own advocate and apply yourself. You won’t succeed unless you try!