ORLANDO, Fla. – A group of passionate science communicators from around the world are working to bring science supplies to students in South America and the Caribbean and one of the group members plans to fly down the supplies once it’s all said and done.

Passage was founded by a growing group of young and veteran leaders in science, with the goal of supplying more than 20,000 pre-kindergarten to high school-age children with the tools to help them learn about science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“It’s for kids and students who, you know, maybe are in high school who are going to be going into college to get into STEM degrees, or just starting off who looked at Bob and Doug go to space and said, I want to be an astronaut,” Passage group member NASA engineer Joan Melendez-Misners said.

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Melendez-Misner, who grew up in Orlando, didn’t always know she wanted to work in spaceflight but after meeting NASA engineers in the field during the NASA social event for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test mission in 2019 she was hooked.

Melendez-Misner, 34, previously worked on fighter jets at the Naval Flight Air Systems Command but after getting inspired by the launch she made the switch to rockets and was hired by Blue Origin. Now, she is an engineer with NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center.

“I knew that I wanted to be there,” she said. “That was kind of the kick that I needed to work for the space industry. I talked to so many NASA engineers, I made so many connections. And then less than a year later, I worked at Blue Origin.”

The University High School graduate earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and her Master’s Degree from the Naval Post Graduate school.

For Melendez-Misner, inspiring the next generation of engineers or leaders in STEM is important. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. Both her parents are from Puerto Rico and taught her the meaning of what it takes to reach your goals through hard work.

“I want to be that person that anybody can come up to me, whether on social media or even in person and say, ‘Hey, you know, I saw you in this webinar, I would love to talk to you about your journey.’” she said. “I want to be that person, just because it’s so important to, with STEM careers, especially women in STEM, especially Hispanic women in STEM, which I think it’s like less than 2.7% of us in the field, it’s so important to have people who are in these positions, talk to you, as you’re a human, that they’re just it’s an attainable position that you can have.”

Outside of Passage, the Orlando native is also involved in Engineering Gals, a community of female engineers working to help other young women who want to work in STEM. Melendez-Misner and other Latinas in the group will be part of YouTube talk soon where girls and young woman can ask questions about engineering.

Some of the STEM communicators and professionals involved in the Passage fundraiser to send supplies to students in South America and the Caribbean. (Image credit: Passage)
Some of the STEM communicators and professionals involved in the Passage fundraiser to send supplies to students in South America and the Caribbean. (Image credit: Passage) (WKMG 2020)

On Tuesday, Passage launched its GoFundMe campaign. There are perks to donate as well, including an official mission patch and some rewards a little more exclusive.

Of the 20-some people involved, each one has signed up to teach a MasterClass for $25 donors, Melendez-Misner said.

“Not only are we giving back to these countries, we’re also giving back to the people who are donating,” she explained.

Pilot and University of North Florida graduate Lee Giat, 22, is also making a documentary film about the fundraiser and the journey to deliver the supplies. Anyone who donates more than $200 will earn a VIP ticket the film’s premiere at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex but tickets are limited.

Those who put up the big bucks and throw down $500 can earn a flight for two on the Spirit of Science, the name of the plane Giat will deliver the supplies to schools in Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Chile and Colombia.

“What we’re trying to do is, as science communicators is not only get involved in just the United States, but we want to be involved all over the world, especially in the parts of the world where they’re not as privileged as we are,” Melendez-Misner said. “So 85% of the students that we are going to be bringing these school supplies to are below the poverty line.”

About a day into the GoFundMe campaign’s launch the team has already raised more than 10% of its $50,000 goal. Anyone can donate here and learn more about the mission.

You can follow Melendez-Misner on social media @Yourfemaleengineer to learn more about her work.

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