Nohemi Sepulveda is a first-generation Mexican American STEM-inist. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA, but has spent a good portion of her life traveling and living in other parts of the country and worldwide. Growing up, Nohemi always had an interest in mathematics and decided to pursue this career path in college. She moved across the country from California to Williams College in Massachusetts, where she graduated in 2018 with a double major in math and Spanish.
While at Williams, Nohemi took a graph theory research tutorial class taught by Professor Pamela E. Harris. In this class, Nohemi collaborated on and conducted math research with the only Latina mathematics professor, along with the only other two Latina math majors in the department. They researched broadcast domination, where they worked to develop and address open-ended problems on finding new and efficient dominating patterns for finite and infinite triangular matchstick graphs. Working on graph theory research was truly inspiring. Not only did Nohemi learn more about research and how it worked, but she also wrote a collaborative paper and got it published in the Discrete Applied Mathematics Journal, a leading international journal in mathematics. Her research in math has given her, along with a grounding in many areas of mathematics, the skills to study and learn difficult material and the strong desire to pursue a career in STEM.
During her college career, Nohemi also participated in multiple teaching and mentoring internships that focused on increasing the participation of underrepresented communities in STEM. Over the years, she has taught and tutored hundreds of students in a variety of subjects. While her primary role has been to teach and tutor students in math, science, and technology, she has also made it a personal mission to ensure that her students reach beyond their initial academic goals. While working, studying, and volunteering abroad, Nohemi has taken on the responsibility of helping students across the world to understand the importance of shattering harmful labels that society, far too often, imposes on the underprivileged. For this reason, she continues to spend many of her summers working as a teacher at Shanti Bhavan, a not-for-profit boarding school in India that provides students from the lowest caste with a high-quality education. Here, Nohemi mentors and guides her students while also serving as a reminder to them that they are more than just ‘untouchables;’ they are unbelievably strong and ingenious individuals. This is a community to which Nohemi feels that she can relate, and also one where she comes from – a community that deserves to have the cycles of poverty broken down by instruction and the right to a high-quality education.
Nohemi’s work at Shanti Bhavan is one of the main reasons that she decided to pursue a Fulbright Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State upon college graduation. As a Fulbright grantee, Nohemi taught her students a variety of challenging subjects while also starting a vigorous academic outreach program at the school called STEM like a girl. This dynamic program brought together a robust group of young girls and allowed them to collectively engage in STEM activities – an initiative that supports her continuous commitment to helping increase the participation of young girls in STEM fields. Opening up this space was of crucial importance to Nohemi because she wanted to make sure that the girls at her school knew that there was a space for them to come together and engage in STEM roles where they could make significant scientific innovations and discoveries. As a Latina in STEM, Nohemi knows and understands what it means to be the only person in the room who looks like her – something that she is striving to change. Nohemi believes that when there are more women, and they continue to support each other, then we will start seeing a more welcoming space that is both diverse and more inclusive.
Nohemi’s initiative to continue teaching and mentoring is what led her to her first internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as a SUITS (Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students) intern since January 2020. For this project, Nohemi was part of the technical team in charge of creating and setting up the Artemis Software Design Challenge, where she worked with students to help them create and design spacesuit information displays within augmented reality (AR) environments. This internship allowed Nohemi to learn more about the future of spacesuit design and how NASA is working towards creating human-autonomy enabling technologies that will be essential for the necessary and elevated demands of lunar surface exploration and extreme terrestrial environments. Aside from Nohemi’s technical responsibilities, she also wrote a SUITS white paper evaluating the impact of the SUITS challenge on future visual informatics display systems for the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuit. This allowed her to conduct research and look into the different types of vision-aided algorithms, the complex math behind them, and how these solutions could potentially be used in spacesuits to help astronauts navigate while on the surface of the moon.
Nohemi’s fascination with human spaceflight and the ways in which we can use and create technologies that will impact and help keep astronauts healthy and safe in space is a passion of hers that has only grown exponentially with her current Spacesuit Engineering internship with the Exploration Pressure Garment Subsystem (xPGS) team. Here, Nohemi has been able to acquire a wealth of technical engineering knowledge ranging from the creation, design, and development of various parts of the suit using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software like CREO to writing and creating test plans for the different suit components that will be tested at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). Nohemi’s time with the xPGS team has helped solidify her decision to pursue a future career in research, where she will learn more about the effects of spaceflight on the human body through the rich and diversified combination of aerospace engineering, the life sciences, and space medicine.
Throughout Nohemi’s life, she has learned the value and privilege of an education. Her eagerness and willingness to learn and explore new ideas have always inspired her to teach and mentor others – to pass down what she knows and to challenge her students to question and inquire about the unknown. Nohemi’s role in the educational sector has been central to her commitment to inspiring and leading generations to a better and more advanced future. Even throughout her four internships at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Nohemi continues to be involved and to be a part of NASA on Campus – an intern-run organization that reaches out to schools, from elementary to high school, and teaches students about NASA, human spaceflight, and how to participate in STEM careers. This type of STEM engagement and outreach work has been central to her professional and personal mission of teaching others the lessons that she has learned and paying this knowledge forward. Nohemi believes in the importance of using her education to open doors for others like herself – to use mentorship to provide guidance, advice, exposure of STEM, empowerment, and a sense of belonging to our youth.
“Hispanic Heritage month (and really all year round) translates to the opportunity to continue helping and inspiring other girls and those who come from underrepresented backgrounds like myself to continue shattering the glass ceiling and to not be afraid of reaching for those dreams that our community has deemed as impossible or unthinkable – to encourage others to embrace who they are in these spaces while also being great innovators, problem solvers, and world-changers. As a woman, a child of immigrants, and someone who comes from a low-income background, I was often put under unique pressures and given sets of responsibilities that caused me to miss out on a great deal of having a “normal” childhood. This, combined with a lack of parental support that my peers had with regards to education, hobbies, and overall life guidance, often led me to carry my own weight and the weight of my entire family. However, these aspects that I once saw as constant disadvantages have actually turned out to be some of my greatest strengths. I truly believe that women who come from immigrant families, and a similar background to mine, are some of the strongest and most resilient people that I know – an identity that stems from a necessity to survive, but also the ability to thrive. Not only have we persevered through our personal hardships, but we have done so in such a way that has also taken care of those around us. These nurturing qualities combined with our ability to be creative and to think on our feet when it comes to daily challenges are all skills, experiences, and perspectives that translate to professional tenacity, an authentic team environment, and unorthodox solutions. I wish to use these abilities to continue inspiring and empowering others like myself to participate in the fields of STEM and for them to understand that they are all valuable assets who will help advance scientific innovation.”