By Marjorie Macieira and Adriana Mitchell
My daughter, Adriana Macieira Mitchell, and I first heard of GIRL via a George Mason STEM event. We met up with Ms. Danielle Blunt Craddock at a booth where she was warmly reaching out to attendees about her program. We connected again during a GIRL special visit to the White House during the Obama administration, delighting in the beautiful architecture and holiday decorations. Our next exciting GIRL event was a visit to a DC based architectural firm, McKissack & McKissack, which inspired Adriana to shadow two landscape architects for a whole day in the city of Alexandria. We then attended a STEM conference for young women where the keynote speaker was a female astronaut who fascinated Adriana by how accessible she made her role of being a pilot of the space shuttle sound.
Adriana joined a science club at her Washington Lee High School and then an engineering club. She and I both attended science conferences in DC where, again, science was made super-friendly and accessible. We also attended lectures at the DC Air and Space Museum, meeting both astronauts and female astronomers. During Adriana’s sophomore and junior years, she participated in the Virginia Space Coast Scholars Academy where she planned a trip to Mars with real astronauts and NASA engineers. She then became a counselor to help other students in the same program. One summer she worked with a propulsion group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. During her senior year, she took piloting classes at the APS Career Center and passed her FAA piloting test, flying a Cessna plane from Manassas to Culpepper and back.
By her senior year, Adriana was hooked on STEM and space science in particular. We visited a variety of colleges and universities, attending special STEM events and weekends for young women who were applying for STEM related majors. She studied hard becoming a National Achievement Scholarship Finalist, a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar and a recipient of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Medal (scholarships for math and science students). She applied to the honors program at University of Arizona (UA) where she was accepted with a substantial scholarship.
Adriana is currently a junior at UA, majoring in optical sciences and engineering. Students work with lasers, detectors, instrumentation, fiber communications, lens design, and optical fabrication and testing. She hopes to one day design instruments for NASA interplanetary missions. For her last two summers, Adriana was involved in the solar eclipse project where she played an important part in the most ambitious citizen science projects ever done during a total solar eclipse: the Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment, or Citizen CATE for short, a research project supported by federal, private, and corporate contributions. CATE brought together volunteers from high schools, universities, informal education groups, astronomy clubs across the country, national science research labs, and five corporate sponsors. Together, they produced the first dataset of high-resolution, rapid-sequence, white-light images of the sun’s inner corona over 90 minutes via an arc of telescopes recording the total eclipse in the path of totality across the US. UA flew Adriana out to various conferences in Colorado, California, and Texas to present the project at national press conferences and other events about the eclipse.
When Adriana isn’t programming computers or adjusting telescope control motors, she brings her passion for science to the public. She has helped organize and facilitate STEM events for high school students around Tucson as well as record education videos of her interesting work. Over the years, she has won several awards and scholarships for academic distinction and departmental honors for outstanding achievement in Optical Sciences and Engineering. GIRL invited Adriana to share her story during a college career conference. Adriana shared her college search process, educational goals, and adaptation to her college environment.
This summer she is going to Japan to assist her advisor in preparing and selecting different terrain models for efficient use during the approach phase and preliminary mapping phase of an asteroid sample-return Japanese Space Agency mission. The resulting data products will be used to visualize image data and help select a landing site or investigate the geology of various surface features.
GIRL was an inspirational force in helping shape Adriana’s future. Having a group of dedicated women (such as the support found through GIRL) behind every aspiring young person provides, in space lingo, a wonderful launching pad to literally “reach for the stars.”
There is another solar eclipse coming up in 2024, and by that time, Adriana may already have a Ph.D. “I’m definitely going to grad school,” she says. “Since I’m mostly interested in planetary science, I’d like to build instruments, like an infrared imager or some type of spectrometer that could someday fly through the geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. That would be really cool. I would also like to travel to Mars someday soon.”