Enidia Santiago-Arce, Aerospace Engineer
by Andrea Payne
What are the top three things young people of color considering careers in technology need to know? “You belong,” asserts Enidia Santiago-Arce, the Center Agreement Manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland where she is responsible for coordinating partnerships between GFSC and non-NASA organizations. “Don’t let people tell you that you are there because you are a token,” she emphasizes. “You have a talent; you have value that you bring.”
Santiago-Arce was the first guest speaker in a series created for high school students participating in the Boston Design Academy (BDA), an advanced technology design course developed by Timothy Smith Network (TSN). BDA is offered through a virtual platform in partnership with Boston Public Schools’ TechBoston Academy (TBA) located in Dorchester, MA. where it is presented in addition to Boston Public Schools’ own design curriculum. The speaker series was developed to support students in making the connection between what they learn in the classroom to future careers in today’s tech-centered workforce. Santiago-Arce sat down with TSN to reflect on the time she spent with the students.
“Be ready for anything,” is the second most important thing students need to know, Santiago-Arce says. “Be flexible. Have your expectations, but you must be flexible.” And finally, “Be prepared. Study. Take this time in school to figure things out, to try different things and to prepare for whatever is available.” Santiago chuckles at this last point. “I had my life planned since I was six years old.”
Santiago-Arce, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and a Master of Science in technology commercialization from Northeastern University has been employed at GSFC since 1999. Throughout her 21 career, Santiago-Arce has mentored many students and GSFC newcomers.
As a Latinx woman in a primarily white male dominated profession, Santiago-Arce considers herself “lucky” because “Goddard is inclusive,” she states. “They have a strong record of supporting Hispanics.” And while working in a diverse workforce makes her job easier, Santiago-Arce counts tenacity as a key attribute. “I am resilient,” she says. I fight for what I want.” Commenting on the issues facing Blacks and Latinx in the workplace, Santiago-Arce notes, “What I do, say, or how I act reflects not only on me, but also on me as a woman, me as an Hispanic, me as a person who speaks another language. You are seen as part of a group. It’s not only who I am. It’s how they see us – Hispanics – as minorities.”
Santiago-Arce enjoyed her dialogue with BDA students. “They asked good questions. One threw me for a loop. I was asked ‘What does your workday look like?’ I’ve never had that asked of me before.” Reflecting on meeting the students, Santiago-Arce says, “Doing this is important because we don’t have enough diversity in the STEM fields. Minorities are underrepresented. We have so much talent, so many contributions to make. It’s important that we have a place at the table. We have to show others that you can contribute to society and do well for your family, your people and your community by engaging in the STEM fields.”
As you climb the ladder to your dreams don’t try to do it all by yourself, Santiago-Arce advises. “Success is not attained alone. I had the full support of my family and my teachers.” A wife and mother, Santiago-Arce is grateful as she acknowledges, “I have a strong team of cheerleaders. My maternal grandmother saw me through some tough times. She helped me get where I am. She was a strong woman.”