(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 1.Jun.2019) — Junellie González Quiles was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She studied at the Colegio Congregación Mitain Hato Rey, Puerto Rico before later studying at the University of Maryland, College Park. González currently works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center doing research on exoplanet data science, and plans to pursue her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University starting next year as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow. What follows is our Q&A interview with Ms. González.
“We can’t advocate for diversity in STEM without advocating for inclusion as well. If an institution can’t support students of color, but they still bring those students for their diversity efforts, then they are still failing to recognize the institutional structures that push out students of color”— Junellie González Quiles
Energy Analytics Institute: How did you gain an interest in STEM fields, and what industry do you want to pursue post graduation?
Junellie González Quiles: I gained interest in science from a very young age. When I was in third and fourth grade, I was fascinated with meteorology. I remember always searching for weather reports, and watching the weather channel. I thought our atmosphere was so interesting. Then, in fifth grade when I went to a science summer camp by the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, I fell in love with space. One night, astronomers came and brought some telescopes, and it was the first time that I was introduced to the cosmos. Even though I was fascinated by our atmosphere, I fell in love with space when I realized there was so much out there just waiting to be discovered.
First, I plan on pursuing my PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University starting next year. I am still considering my options and deciding whether to pursue a career in academia, or come back to work at NASA as a civil servant.
Energy Analytics Institute: Why is it important to get more students, including females and Latinas, interested in STEM education?
Junellie González Quiles: If it had not been for the science summer camp I attended in fifth grade, I would have not gotten interested in astronomy from such an early age. It was crucial for me to become motivated to learn more about astronomy from a young age because I was able to start paving my way towards that goal in my middle and high school years. I was able to start looking for opportunities in science and math early on in order to get myself ready for when it was time to look for colleges. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to be admitted to a school in the US, so I made sure I got involved in every science and math activity, club and competition there was in order to achieve my goal of becoming an astronomer. Getting students exposed and interested in STEM like I was is crucial for opening the doors of opportunity to them early on in their lives.
On the other hand, I believe that most students, especially women, Latinas, and minorities in general, already possess and express overwhelming interest in STEM either early on or at a later stage in life. The issues arise when the environment in which they express their interests does not fully support them or even encourage them in the first place. This is where we start seeing disparities in populations of students that pursue STEM fields. This is why it is so important to not only get them interested in STEM fields, but to also support them and give them the opportunities to expand and develop those interests. We can’t advocate for diversity in STEM without advocating for inclusion as well. If an institution can’t support students of color, but they still bring those students for their diversity efforts, then they are still failing to recognize the institutional structures that push out students of color. This can result in an unsupportive environment, and therefore a loss of students of color in these fields. It is not only important to motivate, but also support these students.
Energy Analytics Institute: What advice would you give to female and latina students concerned about the gender disparities in STEM fields?
Junellie González Quiles: You are not alone. Even though there are still big gender disparities in STEM fields, there are a few of us that are here being strong and breaking barriers, like you. I remember the biggest thing I noticed when I walked into my first physics class was the amount of men in the room, and the looks. Remain strong and confident in your abilities. You are there because you can do it. Remember who you are and where you came from, and use it as a fuel to continue on. Don’t ever hide your light and who you are for anyone.
I also want you to recognize your needs for thriving. If your environment is not supportive, there are other places that already have a much better environment for their students. It’s not selfish to seek out those places for yourself. It is what you need to thrive. By being ‘different’, we are making our own way to success while paving that path for students to come. While it may not be an easy path to find the right environment, surrounding yourself by those who believe in you and building that network will help you get there. ¡TÚ PUEDES!
Energy Analytics Institute: What projects are you working on now of interest and/or related to STEM?
Junellie González Quiles: I am extremely interested in studying exoplanets, which are planets outside of our Solar System. I am currently working on exoplanet data simulations at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Before coming to NASA, I did research at Johns Hopkins University with Prof. June Wicks on studying minerals at high pressures and temperatures to see how they would behave in planetary interiors. I am extremely interested and excited to do research on exoplanets through the collaboration between the fields of astronomy and planetary science because through such interdisciplinary work, we will be able to fully characterize exoplanets. If we are able to fully characterize exoplanets, then we will be able to put our Solar System in context with the rest of the planetary systems.
About Junellie González Quiles
Junellie González Quiles was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She studied at the Colegio Congregación Mitain Hato Rey, Puerto Rico until her senior year of high school, where she decided to pursue interests in astronomy in the states. Being fully bilingual (Spanish and English) gave her the opportunity to study at the University of Maryland, College Park to pursue those interests. González graduated in December of 2018 with my bachelor’s degree in astronomy and minor in planetary sciences. She currently works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center doing research on exoplanet data science, and she plan on pursuing her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University starting next year as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow.
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