She Struggled in Math as an ECE Student at UP, Now She Leads a Unit at NASA

They say that when you are good at something, you should probably just build a career with such skill. Like when you have exceptional mathematical ability, the odds are you will be pushed to be a mathematician, an accountant, or an engineer later on. But what does that mean for others who do not have any affinity towards numbers?

It’s not game over yet if you ask Josephine Santiago-Bond.

She worked her way to become a Filipino engineer, actually a department head, at NASA, despite her love-hate relationship with mathematics and sciences as a youngster.

Photo by NASA Public Affairs

She was enrolled at the University of the Philippine-Diliman as an Electronics and Communications Engineering student when eventually she felt that math “got exponentially more difficult” as time went by.

“I had to crawl my way through some of the courses, but I wasn’t going to give up on [Electronics and Communications Engineering] because of a few bad grades,” she told in an interview with SpotPH.

Although she studied in the Philippine Science High School where advanced math and science subjects are taught, that didn’t help her much in college. It is also worth noting that taking up ECE was not upon her conviction, but was due to the convincing of an older schoolmate to pursue the course.

“In between my fair share of socializing, I practiced solving math and engineering problems until I was either confident enough to take the test or ran out of review time. There were lots of sleepless nights, but strong friendships were formed, and my persistence eventually paid off,” she added.

Josephine finished here BSECE in UP in 2001.

It is fair to say that mathematics and sciences was not really her cup of tea – not that any particular thing sparked her interest growing up – despite that her family is composed of scientists.

“I would answer phone calls and have to ask the caller ‘Which Dr. Santiago?’ because my parents and later, both my sisters, were doctors of some sort. Their curiosity and work ethic most likely rubbed off on me, but their professions did not speak to me,” she said.

But look at where she is now – Josephine leads the Advanced Engineering Development Branch at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Josephine when she was an intern at NASA.

Her opportunity started when she went back to her birth country, the United States, and took a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the South Dakota State University. Her stint there landed her a summer job, which became a graduate cooperative internship at the space center. After graduating in 2005, she worked in the same office full time.

The engineer admits that she started with nothing on what is now her line work. “I had zero knowledge about space shuttles, and did not even know that there was an International Space Station orbiting above us. I was just happy to take a break from South Dakota,” she said.

Speaking from her experience, Josephine is happy to share that we have come far from what is portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures, a 2016 biopic depicting how female mathematicians were dishonored at NASA in the 1960s. “Engineering is still male-dominated at NASA if we go by statistics, but I do not feel the gender and racial segregation that was portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures.

“I see myself like Dorothy Vaughan who, upon learning of the installation of electronic computers, taught herself programming and trained her co-workers. I proactively look for gaps that I can fill, I am responsible for continuing my professional development, and try to elevate others around me through mentorship.”

Photo by NASA

When she was asked for advice, all she had to share was this: “Dream many big dreams, and explore challenging opportunities along the way. Push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, and pick tasks that are harder than what you’re used to. Go for growth. Do things that you’re not already good at. Realistically expect that not all of your dreams will come true, at least not the first time you try, but give each try your best anyway. Regularly assess your strengths, sharpen the saw, and find positive ways to use your strengths to achieve the next step toward your dream.”

Source: Spot PH

5 thoughts on “She Struggled in Math as an ECE Student at UP, Now She Leads a Unit at NASA”

  1. I am about to enter sophomore years in my Mechanical Engineering course at Bohol Island SU. It was never on my list to be here but given the privilege of a prestigious scholarship, a strong advice of my Engr. cousin, and a full trust to God, I take it anyway.

    I will never forget my first year because never have I ever felt more challenged by the difficulty of the subjects and pressured by the scholarship that bares with my name. There were lot of quizzes and exams that I failed not just ones or twice but multiple times of trying. I never thought that the only thing I can do to end up a day like this is to enter my room and cry out of frustrations and disappointments. Those were the times I realized medals and awards you received during HS or JHS never help. It will only make you feel stupid and doubt yourself.

    But in between those breakdowns are many lessons that I will never forget too. I remember a night when I cried so hard because of once-again failure, and I cried so hard staring at the Crucifix of Christ while at the moment I’m lost of words. I just let the pain out of me. That time, I prayed that if this is meant for me, then let all of it happen and if it’s not, I ask Him to get me out of here.

    Eventually, the second sem didn’t gave me the hell of a life experience unlike when I first started. Most of the things come with ease though there were still failed exams and quizzes but I kind of recover while trying again. But before midterms, CoVid happened.

    Now that I’m stuck at home and while reading this article, it makes me reminisce the first year of my college life. I am very aware that all of it are just beginning of a much harder and more challenging years yet to come.

    But eventually, I’m glad that it happened. It teaches me lessons of perseverance, hard work and faith. It made me stronger as a student and an individual.

    Now I’m not really good at ending speeches because this is not really my thing, but I just hope those who are reading this got his/her lesson of stepping up in difficulties of life and to always persevere.
    I’m scared of what will happen to me in these coming years, I’m scared of what will be the outcome of all of these dreams, but I’m not scared enough to not try and figure it out.

    1. I admired your tenacity. As I read your inspiring thoughts, I realized that you dont let your guard down to achieve a certain dream. And failures are essentials in overcoming struggles. Always strive and soar high. God bless

  2. Juneco Ando. Micarandayo

    Congrats proud po !! Hopefully next year iwill studies ECE in (USEP )UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN ESTERN PHILIPPINES
    I Honestly to say that iam also stragglers with math and hard formula’s but i love science specially physics
    So Dost caraga offer a scholarship in cousera they can help me to have a background in ECE i grab the apportionity for the scholarship
    I am been 3yrs to not pursume in college because of financial problem
    Thank you for a wonderful story in your life this is my inspiration on my comming Ece course

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