September 21, 2020 | UHCL Staff
Hawks are known for soaring, and a passion for aerospace has led to a unique University of Houston-Clear Lake connection to a barrier-breaking new book, “Latinas in Aviation.”
Evelyn Miralles, UH-Clear Lake’s associate vice president for Strategic Information Initiatives and Technology and a former NASA engineer, authored the book’s foreword at the request of author Jacqueline Camacho Ruiz. Ruiz sought Miralles out at last year’s National Hispanic Leadership Summit at the United Nations, and the two bonded over their mutual passion for aerospace and flying.
“I’m a pilot, and I have always known there was a strong connection between aerospace and aviation,” Ruiz said. “The pathway to becoming an astronaut is to be a pilot first. When I knew Evelyn was going to be at the summit, I had to meet her. I said, let’s forget about propellers—we need to talk about rocket fuel and jet engines! There is no one better for that than Evelyn, so I am very honored she accepted my invitation to write the foreword.”
Together, they hope the book will inspire young Latinas toward a career path in aviation.
They will also take part in a "Latinas in Aviation" Zoom discussion at 11:30 a.m., Sept. 24, as part of university-wide Hispanic Heritage Month events at UHCL.
Miralles, who spent a decades-long career as chief principal engineer at NASA’s Virtual Reality Laboratory, said she was humbled to accept the invitation to write the preface in Ruiz’s special book. “Jacqueline’s career in aviation is inspiring,” she said. “When I met her at the summit, I said we need people who can help elevate Latinas even higher. It’s very important to bring more diversity to this industry.”
Ruiz, who has authored 17 other books, said she became enthralled with flying at a hot-air balloon show, where she and her husband took a ride on a two-seat light sport aircraft. “This book focuses on 22 Latinas in aviation,” she said. “They are pilots, aeronautical engineers, veterans, air traffic controllers, and mechanics. Only .02% of the population are pilots, and of that, only 6.5% are females, and less than 1% of the entire population are Latinas.”
She said she hoped to pave the way for many more young Latina women to fall in love with aviation. “Every single one of us who are in this career has been captivated by the magic of aviation,” she said.
Over the last six years, Ruiz has also operated a nonprofit organization to support young Latinas in their path toward a career in STEM. “Many of them said they have no role models, they have no support and they have no money,” she said. “I asked myself, how could I change that? With this book, I am showing them role models who will inspire them.”
She added that all the proceeds from the sale of the book will fund scholarships for young Latinas to enter the world of aviation. “I call them ‘Pilotina’ scholarships—that is the word ‘pilot’ and ‘Latina’ together,” she said. “There is something magical that happens when you begin your flight training. There’s a moment when you realize, you aren’t strapped to the plane—the plane is an extension of me! This is the feeling I want to bring to the girls. I am the pilot in command, and it takes up every cell in my body. I am so inspired by the world of aviation.”
“Jacqueline’s passion is in her book,” Miralles said. “Students don’t see themselves in the position of pilot. They don’t see themselves doing a STEM career. That is why role models are so important.”
Miralles said she hoped that through efforts such as this book, the aviation industry would continue to develop its awareness for the need for a more diverse workforce. “I believe the industry should take more decisive action to reach out to women,” she said. “Jacqueline is one of the few Latinas in the country who supports aspiring young female pilots and guides them to pursue their dreams in aviation.”
UH-Clear Lake is a Hispanic-Serving Institution with a Hispanic student population of 39%. The university offers degree programs in computing sciences, engineering, physical and applied sciences, biology and biotechnology, environmental sciences, and mathematics and statistics. UHCL offers over 25 scholarships for students in the College of Science and Engineering.
This is the second in a series of features spotlighting Hispanic Heritage Month at UHCL. Embark on a month-long journey through Hispanic culture by participating in the "Latinas in Aviation" presentation on Sept. 24 and other events planned university-wide.
Ruiz’s book is available at www.latinasinaviation.com.