December 7, 2001

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Education... The Stepping Stone To The Stars

Growing up in La Mesa, California, Dr. Ellen Ochoa never imagined she would be jetting through space for a living. As the first Hispanic woman astronaut, Dr. Ochoa attributes her success to the encouragement of her mother, who inspired her to excel in her education, and her teachers who made learning exciting.

"Usually, girls weren't encouraged to go to college and major in math and science," notes Dr. Ochoa. "My high school calculus teacher, Ms. Paz Jensen, made math appealing and motivated me to continue studying it in college."

At both Grossmont High and San Diego State University, Dr. Ochoa earned the top academic spot and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She received a bachelor's degree in physics from San Diego State University in 1980 and a master's and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985, respectively.

Thanks to all the wonderful teachers in her life, Dr. Ochoa now has many talents. Her mother's emphasis on the enjoyment of learning reminded her of the critical role a teacher can play in the lives of their students.

"I was always drawn to teachers who made class interesting," said Dr. Ochoa. "In high school, I enjoyed my American and English literature classes because my teachers, Jeanne Dorsey and Dani Barton, created an environment where interaction was important."

Dr. Ochoa, who has accumulated more than 719 hours in flight during three shuttle missions, is humbled by her status as a role model for young Latinos and young women. Taking this position seriously, she reaches out to students and community groups informing them of the importance of an education and the opportunities it provides.

"A hallmark of the Latino community is to help one another," says Dr. Ochoa. "If students are interested in a way to give back and help their communities, becoming a teacher is probably one of the very best ways of doing that."

Over the next decade the state will need to find 300,000 people to take on the challenging but rewarding job of teaching California's children. As an extension of ongoing recruitment efforts led by CalTeach (the California Center for Teaching Careers), the "Inspire a Future Leader. Teach" campaign is a statewide public education campaign to attract individuals to the teaching profession - especially Latinos.

CalTeach is a one-stop information, referral and recruitment center for individuals interested in a teaching career. Administered by the California State University, Office of the Chancellor, CalTeach offers a variety of informational and advisor-assisted services. Established in 1997 by the California Legislature, the goal of CalTeach is to recruit qualified individuals to the teaching profession and alleviate the shortage of credentialed teachers in the state. For more information on how to become a teacher, please call CalTeach at 1-888-CALTEACH or visit

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