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Puerto Rico Profile: Fernando Pellerano

September 10, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

For Fernando Pellerano, the importance of education was a "no-brainer." Unlike many kids in the United States mainland and on the island of Puerto Rico who do not see college as a viable option, Pellerano, who grew up in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, never considered any alternative for himself but to pursue a higher education. Now, through his work with NASA and as a mentor for young students, Pellerano, an engineer, is providing exposure to the possibilities of higher education for young students in New Jersey.

"I am living proof of what education has to offer," he said. As a third generation engineer, the only question he had as a child was what type of engineer to be.

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on January 23, 1968, Pellerano wanted to be part of the space program ever since he watched the broadcast of the first space shuttle launch at the age of 13. His fascination with the space program gave him the direction and drive he needed. Pellerano graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and went on to receive his MSEE (Master of Science in Electrical Engineering) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

He feels that exposure to advanced ideas and institutions is something that a "huge segment of the population" never receive. Pellerano believes that television broadcasts, such as the space shuttle launch which shaped his engineering direction, are no longer as strong a positive influence for young people because television now broadcasts "only the bad news."

Working jointly with the Stevens Institute of Technology in a mentoring program, Pellerano is able to reach out to Hispanic students and give them a different perspective of what education has to offer. "There has to be continuity; teaching the others who come behind us."

Exposure is the first step in education for students in all walks of life. In addition to his exposure to NASA's broadcast, Pellerano credits time spent with his father at his work as an engineer in helping to guide the direction of his own education and attitude. Unfortunately, many students lack this exposure and see education as being beyond their reach.

For this reason, Pellerano is involved with the NASA-supported mentoring program. Reaching out to students and citizens is an important part of the NASA mission of NASA, which encourages employees to be involved in programs that educate. Since many students are not aware of the opportunities that they have before them, Pellerano and eight other NASA scientists visited with students at six Hudson County schools in New Jersey and talked about what they do at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Pellerano, because of his Hispanic background, especially identified with Hispanic students and encouraged them to enter science and technology careers. Pellerano was able to speak from experience. "I work in the area of microwave technology and communications systems," his profile reads on their website. "I am responsible for the design and development of antennas for spacecraft."

The students they are mentoring, from grades five through nine, are given first-hand experience as NASA scientists. As a project, they simulated the flight of a satellite and even built one for themselves out of cardboard. They enacted a launch and then simulated the flight the satellite would have taken as it orbited an asteroid. Pellerano stayed in contact with the students through e-mail and said that the questions they asked him were encouraging. This project helped the students to understand the process of the space program as well as demonstrating the possibilities of continued education.

The satellite flight simulation was only part of the mentoring program. The first semester of the program focused on meteorology and understanding weather information collected from NASA satellites and the internet. Then the students moved on to satellites. They were also able to speak with their mentors via the computer teleconferencing software, "CU-See me." Students were not only exposed to the world of science but also received first hand experience with computer technology.
Pellerano hopes his own children will pursue a college education and work as professionals. Just as higher education was a "no-brainer" for Pellerano, he hopes that his children and the students he is mentoring will see the importance of this opportunity.

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