Dr. Adriana Ocampo, a Leader on NASA’s Juno Mission, Named 2016 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year

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Tampa’s Museum of Science & Industry, MOSI, will honor a pioneer in the exploration of other worlds and our own planet with its 2016 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award.

Dr. Adriana Ocampo (NASA photo)

Dr. Adriana Ocampo (NASA photo)

“My parents always encouraged me to reach for the stars and instilled in me the knowledge that education was the gateway to making my dreams come true.”

Adriana Ocampo, PhD, a trailblazing planetary geologist and Space Program Manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, has been named 2016 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year.

Dr. Ocampo serves as a pivotal leader on the team behind the Juno mission to Jupiter, as well as last year’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto. She helps guide exploration of our Solar System as the Lead Program Executive for NASA’s New Frontiers Program and is also NASA’s lead scientist for the exploration of the planet Venus.

Here on Earth, Dr. Ocampo's work has led to revolutionary scientific breakthroughs. Her team was the first to identify, using satellite images, the asteroid impact crater that likely caused the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“Dr. Ocampo is an inspiration to us all,” said MOSI President and CEO Molly Demeulenaere. “She shows us that anyone can achieve their dreams – even if those dreams are on another world. The National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award is about inspiring children to believe they can accomplish anything – and there is no better role model for this than Dr. Adriana Ocampo.”

The Award

Now in its 16th year, the National Hispanic Scientist of the Year (NHSOY) Award honors a person of Hispanic ethnicity who has made lasting contributions to our understanding of the world and has worked to inspire the next generation of scientists. The induction and award gala in Tampa on October 22, 2016 will showcase Dr. Ocampo’s achievements while celebrating the Hispanic community and the vital role diversity plays in generating new ideas.

The day before the gala, MOSI will host a powerful mentoring experience with Dr. Ocampo. In partnership with local schools, more than one thousand middle school students who live in low-income areas are brought to MOSI for a fun Meet the Scientist Day on October 21, 2016. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) professionals are treated like rock and roll stars, and kids leave excited and engaged about the possibilities for their future.

The Honoree

Born in Colombia and raised in Argentina, Dr. Ocampo made spaceships out of the pots and pans in her kitchen, and recruited her dolls and family dog to serve as her astronaut crew. Her family moved to the Los Angeles area when she was 14, and she began working for NASA while she was still just a teenager. While contributing to major projects at NASA – including landmark robotic missions to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – she earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

“I feel honored to have been considered for this [award],” Dr. Ocampo said. “My parents always encouraged me to reach for the stars and instilled in me the knowledge that education was the gateway to making my dreams come true.”

Past NHSOY award recipients include a Nobel laureate, the first female US Surgeon General, the former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the directors of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a NASA astronaut, and other highly respected scientists.

The Reason

Hispanic, black, and Native American students are drastically under-represented in the sciences – while they make up 30% percent of the US population, they earn just 12.5% of all STEAM degrees. Maruchi Azorin, a Tampa businesswoman and past MOSI board chair, founded NHSOY in 2000 to help fight that trend. Evidence shows programs like NHSOY are working: since 2000, the dropout rate for Hispanic students has fallen from 28% to 11%.

Proceeds from the award gala benefit MOSI’s YES! Team (Youth Enriched by STEAM!) – a teen service-learning program that connects community service experience with STEAM learning. With preference given for underrepresented minorities, this unique program has been a powerhouse for positive change for nearly 25 years, with 98% of its members graduating from high school and 81% pursuing careers in math and science.

The 2016 National Hispanic Scientist of the Year Award is presented by NFL Alumni and supported by Validus Senior Living, Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens, the University of Tampa, and 10News WTSP. For more information about the event, including tickets and sponsorship, visit MOSINHSOY.org.

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Grayson Kamm
@mositampa
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