SMMUSD HQ — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District honored Santa Monican Ruth Fragoso as a Hispanic role model specializing in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) during its Thursday Board of Education meeting.
The district is celebrating the contributions of Hispanic Americans during National Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, which runs until Oct. 15.
The honor was bestowed on Fragoso because of her work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and a NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal she will receive next month for her for work on the Graile mission, which sent twin spacecrafts to the moon to measure the effects of gravity.
She was nominated by JPL for the NASA award. Fragoso works as a mission operations system engineer on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite that studies atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.
A Santa Monica High School graduate, she said it felt good to be recognized for her hard work.
At the meeting, Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of Educational Services for SMMUSD, said most Americans have knowledge of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and others, but asked the room if they could name any Hispanic role models.
Deloria ticked off names of famous Hispanics including Mario Molina, a 1995 Chemistry Nobel Prize Winner; Albert Baez, a physicist and inventor; and Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space.
She said America needs to invest in education for Hispanic youth of the nation if it’s to maintain a competitive edge in the global market.
Closing this opportunity gap requires that more Hispanic students pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees, she said.
Fragoso, who called her education at John Muir and Will Rogers elementary schools as well as John Adams Middle School and Santa Monica High, “excellent,” said she would tell students to believe in themselves. She was also former homecoming and prom queens at Samohi and is president of JAMS’ Science Magnet Parent Association.
“You have the ability to do whatever you want to do,” Fragoso said. “We have to step beyond our comfort zones, you have to set that goal and not let anything stop you.”
She got into engineering after a school counselor at Samohi saw a discarded application for a UCLA program, and suggested Fragoso and another student apply in time for the deadline, which was the next day.
“I loved math,” she said. “I was trying to figure out what to do with math.”
At JPL, Fragoso trains engineers in the mission control room and likened herself to a director in a play while the engineers are the “actors and I give them the script and the story.” As an additional duty at JPL, she is also a Spanish media representative to the Latino community.
Shaun Standley, Fragoso’s technical group supervisor at JPL, called her a “very, very hardworking, dedicated engineer.”
“Over the years, Ruth has been one of these unsung heroes, whose dedication and hard work really make the space missions work,” Standley said.