The Higher Orbits Board of Directors is an incredible group of leaders with a passion for STEM that is in place to ensure that the organization’s mission continues to grow and change the lives of students across America. This dedicated group of leaders works together to secure funding, push program objectives, and present new opportunities to students to lift up the next generation of STEM workers. Higher Orbits is astronomically excited to welcome Marissa Gonzalez to the Higher Orbits Board of Directors! Marissa Gonzalez is a hard-working individual, with fantastic skills in Marketing, Sales, and Communications. In addition to her solid business skills, Gonzalez has an ever-growing passion for STEM and believes wholeheartedly in the power of STEM outreach to students from all backgrounds. With her passion and savvy skill set, Gonzalez is enthusiastic to be an asset to the future growth of the Higher Orbits Foundation. In an introductory interview, Gonzalez reveals more about her perspective on STEM outreach and encourages students from all walks of life to get involved, ask questions, and stay inspired.
What influenced you to join the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?
Marissa Gonzalez joined the Higher Orbits Board of Directors in January 2023. Considering what brought her onto the Board, she explained, “Michelle Lucas definitely had a huge influence on me, and we discussed it [joining the Board] at length. I am not in the STEM industry. I’m more like an outsider looking into it all. It’s a nice situation because I can see a lot of what’s going on. Speaking with Michelle it was more about what I want to do in the future. For instance, one of my goals in life is to open a coffee shop, and within that coffee shop, I want to be able to support coding programs and other similar STEM-focused programs for underprivileged kids. Hearing this, Michelle pointed out the similarities between our goals to increase STEM outreach, and it just made sense to come on board with Higher Orbits.”
Her passion for introducing underprivileged students to the opportunities in STEM shined through as she emphasized, “I want to help open opportunities for students that I didn’t get to have when I was younger. As I grew older, I realized that there are so many opportunities in this world that can change the lives of little brown girls like myself.”
Gonzalez continued, “Joining has really been about reaching out to those students who remind me of my younger self and providing better outlets to learn. I grew up in a very middle-class community and we always had science experiments.”
Gonzalez took a moment to recall a science experiment that she had done as a child testing how many coins would sink a tin foil boat in a bowl of water. Seeing the effect that simple science enrichment activities had on her life, she said, “Looking back, that science is all that I knew, and I want to be able to show little kids that there is so much more science out there to learn.”
After being on the Board for nine months now, what are some of the things that stand out to you in Higher Orbits’ culture?
Gonzalez enthusiastically praised the work and drive of her fellow Board members. She said, “The passion all of the members have is undeniable. It really feels like we are all a part of the same mission to fulfill Michelle’s dream to push these STEM programs further and get them out to students. It’s astounding to see the combined knowledge of all of the members and consider the possibilities.”
Gonzalez explained, “In some projects, you can get stuck on one element, but there is so much that goes into each project and everyone has their strengths to help keep things moving. Getting to know the other members and their backgrounds has been amazing. Combining all of our passions into the mission of getting these students exposed to STEM at these programs is incredible to see and be a part of.”
What are you hoping to accomplish as a member of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?
“The goal for me is to help acquire more partnerships and play a role in getting the word out about our fantastic program. Michelle does a fabulous job of that on her own, but getting those partnerships and funding is essential and requires teamwork. I love the outreach side of things.”
What initially inspired you to promote STEM to students?
“Even though I’ve only been on the Board starting in 2023, I’ve actually been helping out for a longer period,” revealed Gonzalez. Her previous experiences with Michelle Lucas and the Go For Launch! program in her communities initially drew her to the benefits of involvement with Higher Orbits. She discussed her previous experiences recalling, “I’m based in Austin, TX and there are Go For Launch! events that have taken place here that I have participated in. Seeing Michelle in action with these kids and seeing how excited their faces get to have these opportunities was pretty cool and pushed me to get involved.”
The unique involvement of the Go For Launch! program related closely to her personal goals to bring STEM outreach to her community. She greatly appreciated the growth opportunities that the program brings and expressed, “It’s not just the STEM side of things, the program really teaches them how to apply leadership and communication skills. It’s so important for students to have that experience in these times. The kids really get out of their shells and it’s exciting to see. You can always tell in the beginning who are the more shy ones, but then fast forwarding to the last day they grow and are discussing topics with the other students with a spark in their eye.”
What has been the best part of joining the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?
Gonzalez expressed her excitement to meet and work with the other members of the Board of Directors, emphasizing, “I’m a big people person! So, getting to know these Astronauts, engineers, and other Board members has really been an enriching experience. Meeting all of these professionals in STEM is so inspiring and it gets me excited to see what new opportunities can be created for students.”
Which of your skills have contributed the most to your success?
“I think that I’ve always had a knack for leadership,” confessed Gonzalez. “Having versatile leadership skills can take you down so many different avenues and open so many doors in your life. Dealing with people from all walks of life and learning how to maneuver and balance the perspective of others with your goals to pursue a mission creates an invaluable skillset.”
How important do you think it is that young students have access to influential experiences surrounding STEM?
One of the defining moments in Marissa Gonzalez’s relationship with STEM was seeing her first rocket launch in 2008. She describes feeling “awestruck” watching the rocket ignite, feeling the ground rumble, and seeing the trail of light as it ascended to space. She exclaimed, “That was such an incredible experience!” She related the importance of exposing students to STEM through these experiences to her own life and the difference that was made just by being present. She recalled, “I remember as a kid being captivated by science, wearing glow-in-the-dark shirts with constellations and reading the same book about space over and over again. At the time though, I didn’t realize that this world of STEM careers existed. Getting to have those experiences as a child was mind-blowing! Now, knowing that there are so many opportunities, it is so important to me to tell these kids what I’ve seen and how they can participate too. It’s a chance to change their lives, and for me, that is just the best part.”
What are some qualities that you would encourage students to focus on so they can develop into effective workers in the future?
Gonzalez insisted, “Communication is vital! In my experience with retail, corporate, and real estate, communication has been one of my most utilized skills. That just goes for anything in life. You want to be able to communicate clearly and have a grasp on what is going on. Other than that, develop those leadership skills. They will take you really far, especially in these highly technical fields.”
What are some keys to your personal leadership style that you would highlight and have worked for you?
“Always make sure to listen to other people’s input. That can be a hard lesson to learn! However, gathering opinions and collaborating to accomplish a task is essential to success. There has to be a sense of humility to understand that you don’t always have the best idea, and maybe your team member has great insight into the objective of our main goal.”
What encouragement would you give to students who are interested in STEM but unsure of how to pursue their interests professionally?
Gonzalez considered her journey with STEM and encouraged, “Ask questions! I think that personally, I regret not asking more questions, and it resulted in me not fully understanding the opportunities that were available to me. Be curious! There are no wrong questions, and if someone says that you ask too many questions, keep asking questions. That initiative alone will help you to get your foot in the door and start your journey toward what you want to achieve.”
In her STEM journey, Marissa Gonzalez has been deeply moved to support the education of underprivileged students and to show them that their potential is greater than they could imagine. Having her genuine, caring heart and strategic business-driven mind on the Board of Directors as a voice pushing for the betterment of others is an incredible asset to utilize moving forward. The Higher Orbits Board of Directors is so thankful to add Marissa Gonzalez to the circle of leaders!