As an elementary student and continuing through high school, I learned how to work hard and earn a living. At a very young age, I learned how to gather Manila clams and blue crabs at the bay, worked as a fish vendor, and as a young adult, I became a seamstress. At one point, I even learned and manufactured brown paper bags and sold bundles of them at the nearby grocery stores. In my youth, I learned how to do all kinds of housework.
In my elementary school, I remember when I was a fifth grade student, NASA had become a popular name in every corner of the world. I was about 10 or 11 years old when Echo-1 launched into orbit. Shortly after this significant event, our elementary school’s social studies teacher wrote acronyms on the classroom chalkboard — and one of them was NASA. She asked the class what it stood for. After hearing the answer, our teacher said that NASA is one of the government agencies in the United States of America, where astronauts and scientists work. From that moment, I wondered what America looked like. “Are all the homes made of bricks and concrete? Is the soil the same? Do they have lots of trees?” I used to climb trees when I was young. “Are there lots of tall buildings?” Believe it or not, I started wondering if one day, we might live in America. Then I thought, ”What happens when I grow up and maybe someday work for NASA? Will they take me? Will they let me work there?” Although I asked myself those questions, I also thought it was an unrealistic dream. I didn’t know what made me think that, or why I had that idea, when in reality, it was not going to happen. I walked two miles home from school, still thinking about that little “day dream. ”
The fact that we came from a poor family, when even my other siblings’ goal of achieving high school education was such a struggle, I was left cherishing the thought and accepted the truth that my “day dream” was far from being real. With so many other things to occupy my mind, the dream faded away and my childhood fantasy ended that day. I graduated from elementary school and went to high school and finished in 1968.
I stopped school for two years to help my brother and my sister by selling fish at the market. When my older brother, Albert, started to earn enough to help his younger siblings get their college degrees, he assumed the responsibilities for his younger sisters’ and brother’s education.
Because of my family’s cooperative effort, perseverance, ambition, and great desire to receive a higher education, Albert supported himself and became a civil engineer. With his help, my sister, Erminda, became an architect; I became an accountant and my younger brother studied electrical engineering.
In 1972, Albert came to the United States and worked for the U.S. Army and the federal government as a scientist-engineer. To make the story short, my whole family came to America in the mid 1970′s.
You may note that the first part of my “day dream” became a reality. We came to America and I found the answers to my questions. With my own eyes, I saw that it wasn’t a dream anymore. I soon started my first job and worked at different private companies for nine years.
Twenty-two years after that little girl’s dream, I started working for the Office of the Comptroller of the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field in 1983. I applied for a job at NASA, while I was nine months pregnant with my third son. I was interviewed three days after he was born, got the job and transferred to NASA in early 1985, not as a scientist as I dreamed about, but as a budget analyst.
I will always be proud of my brother. It was his hard work that got us all where we are now, along with all the prayers from my ever-praying mother. God looked after us and was guiding us in every way during those hard times.
For Corazon Millena, NASA was an ocean away since she was born in the Philippines. Her family immigrated to the US in 1975 to San Jose, Calif., where she immediately secured a job as a customer service representative at J. C. Penny Co. Ms. Millena’s professional advancement began in 1983 when she started working for the Office of the Comptroller of the Naval Air Station as an accounting technician, leading her to a more challenging job at NASA Ames Research Center. At Ames, Ms. Millena currently serves as a program manager in the Space Science and Astrobiology Division managing the financial resources for NASA’s science, exploration, and space technology programs. She is responsible for the allocation of funds for the engineers and scientists involved with the Cassini mission now orbiting Saturn, Mars Climate Modeling Center, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), and the Kepler Mission. Ms. Millena, who received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Mapua Institutes of Technology in Manila, Philippines, will always remember that her youthful dreams to immigrate to the United States began in August 1960 when NASA launched Echo-1 into orbit, leaving a long-lasting impression in her mind. And had it not been for her dream, she would not have much of a story to tell today. She hurdled the greatest challenges and is forever grateful for her strength, health, and ability to cope. “I believe that children should continue to dream, to hope and to persevere in order to reach their goals,” says Ms. Millena. “The hope shall continue and the dream shall never die” (John F. Kennedy, 1961) is her favorite quote.