Sandra Cauffman: The Costa Rican Who Left Hatillo to Take a Senior Management Position at NASA

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    Sandra Cauffman is the Costa Rican who left Hatillo directly for NASA and is, currently, the deputy director of the Astrophysics Division of the National Aeronautics Administration, becoming a reference for many girls, adolescents and women who want or study careers related to Sciences, Technologies, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Believe it or not, only 30% of women in Costa Rica are developed in these areas, according to the Planning Office of the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC) and although the figures have improved for them, the numbers continue in favor of men at the labor scenario.

    What is the panorama of women’s participation in these areas?

    Currently, we see many women around the world who are getting involved in STEM thanks to the fact that in many countries they are working to reduce gender disparities in science, technology and innovation to achieve shared equality between men and women.

    Since I started my career in these areas, I have faced many obstacles for being a woman and for growing up in a time where we heard that these careers were only for men. However, today I want to tell you that this is not true. I always knew that I wanted to be an electrical engineer and be part of NASA, because my mom always told me “that I could be everything I wanted to be”.

    What is the role that parents play in bringing girls closer in these areas?

    Parents have to sow that seed, so that these girls grow up thinking that they can do everything they want and want to do. If girls already come with that desire to be engineers or technologists, they must be empowered, supported and encouraged to achieve their dreams.

    How does science influence gender equity?

    When I finished high school, I wanted to study electrical engineering at the UCR, but they told me I couldn’t, because there were not any women taking those studies and I had to opt for industrial engineering, but that was the first problem for me because they were depriving me of something for being a woman Now that does not happen anymore, I would like to think of it that way, because women should always have access to science, because it is the solution to the present and future challenges that depend on this discipline.

    I was very bad at math and I failed several subjects in college, but my desire to be part of science and contribute to the world led me to work three times as hard as my male classmates.

    Why is it important to strengthen women’s empowerment in these areas?

    Because it is key to know the leadership of women in science, for me empowerment is not something external that you learn because they taught it to you in a talk on female empowerment, it is something that is within you, it is the power of conviction and security that allows you to achieve everything you set out to do, but it is up to each person to use that power in their favor and be willing to sacrifice for their dreams.

    • How do you receive the news that Costa Rica is the fourth OECD country with the highest percentage of women in scientific research?

    I find it wonderful and extraordinary that Costa Rica is in fourth place, but why not aspire to first place? The country should create more opportunities and programs that encourage more women to develop in STEM areas, such as: giving women greater access to research scholarships and considering gender equity and inclusion of diversity as a fundamental axis so that many women can exercise and develop freely in these disciplines.


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