Speaker gives out of world lecture

Carly Davis

Jose Hernandez, a NASA astronaut and engineer, came to Augustana’s Olin Auditorium on Nov. 5 to speak at the 2019 Lawrence H. Roys Lecture.

The visit coincides with the 50th anniversary year of Augustana’s John Deere Planetarium opening, as well as the 50th anniversary year of the 1969 moon landing.

These lectures are funded in honor the memory of Lawrence Roys, who frequently presented lectures at Augustana on his studies of Mayan architecture in Central America, according to the school’s website.

“We think Mr. Roys would be pleased with the Roys Endowed Lecture Committee’s choice to invite astronaut Hernández to present,” Dr. Michael Wolf, Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences said in an email. The Roys Endowed Lectures annually invite visiting scholars in the sciences to promote STEM and, in Hernández’s case, the importance of pursuing what you care about.

Hernández’s lecture at Augustana was “part inspirational speaker, part engineering scientist, and part astronaut explorer,” Wolf said. “His story is inspiring and impressive.”

Before speaking, Hernández met with Augustana Physics and Engineering students and members of Latinx Unidos.

In his presentation in the Olin Auditorium Tuesday night, Hernández recounted his childhood as the son of a migrant worker. Until he was in second grade, Hernández’s family traveled up and down California until the year before attending college for engineering and following his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.

Attending three different schools and spending three months in Mexico during the winter, Hernández’s childhood was not the best environment conducive to education. Despite that, his household was interested in education and prioritized schoolwork for Hernández and his three older siblings, Hernández said in his lecture.

After second grade, his family settled in Northern California, where he studied before attending the University of the Pacific as an undergraduate and later receiving his Masters in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

As an engineer, Hernández pioneered cancer-detecting technology.  As an astronaut, he traveled more than 5.7 million miles on the Space Shuttle and delivered more than seven tons of equipment to the International Space Station.

“We hope that all the Roys Lectures are educational,” Dr. Lee Carkner, director of the John Deere Planetarium and Astronomy and Physics professor said. “But I think that it is, in some sense, an inspirational talk. It’s a talk about a person who accomplished great things, and I hope we can inspire our students with that.”

Students and community members attended the lecture. “I think it was interesting, kind of getting an insider’s perspective on how [NASA] works,” Junior Eva Harvin said. “I don’t know if it’s something that I’ll go into, but it was really interesting to hear him talk about just applying and applying and not giving up even though he kept getting rejection letters.”

“I think it was extremely inspiring just hearing about the story even though I’m not gonna be using it to be an astronaut,” First-year Sylvia Harvin said.“There’s a lot of other things I can be using [from] it in my own college experience, and use the same thing he’s said to achieve whatever goal I decide to go try and do.”

Hernández emphasized perseverance in his closing remarks to the audience. “Don’t be afraid to dream big,” he said. “But you’ve got to back it up with hard work.”