Meet: Connie Gennaro
Outreach Coordinator, Mars Public Engagement
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Who I am
My name is Consuelo Gennaro. My nick-name
is Connie. I was born in Los Angeles, California. I was raised in Fremont,
California. I attended John F. Kennedy High School in Fremont my Freshmen
and Sophomore years. In high school I was considered "weird."
Back when I was a kid there weren't the terms "geek" and "nerd"
that would have been the best to describe who I really was. I was definitely
an honest to goodness nerd. I loved science and going to school. I dreamt
of going to college someday and I would use up my spare time helping my
science teacher with chores and cleaning up the lab. When I was a kid
it wasn't cool for a girl to be smart. And it certainly wasn't cool for
a girl to like science. The "cool" boys didn't like that. I
didn't care. I was going to be me. I wasn't going to let peer pressure
dictate who I was.
I didn't quite fit in with the other girls. Most of
the Mexican American girls were in gangs. That wasn't for me. The Anglo
girls were kind of hung up on boys and obsessed with becoming cheerleaders
or at least trying to act cool. That wasn't for me either. So here was
this Mexican American girl that was weird and didn't quite fit in. So
I hung out with two guys that were also social outcasts for being really
smart and hung up on science.
One of the highlights of my high school years was
going on a field trip to NASA Ames. Only four kids from each high school
in the Bay Area were chosen to go on this amazing event. I was one of
them! (Being a nerd really paid off that time). It was a very big event.
There were even three governors from other states visiting NASA Ames that
day. Everyone got to see a U2 Spy Plane take off that day. What a sight
that was! I can still remember it as if it happened yesterday. I observed
the people working there. But I didn't dare to imagine myself working
at NASA. It seemed way out of my reach, just as hard as imagining touching
that U2 Spy Plane that flew away so high and so fast. It seemed way out
of my reach.
Before my junior year of high school my parents decided
to move to Mexico. They had lived and worked in the U.S. for almost thirty
years but they missed their family in Mexico. So my Dad sold our home
and moved us away. Although I had been raised in a very traditional Mexican
American home and I spoke fluent Spanish it didn't prepare me for the
huge culture shock. After all I was an American. This wasn't my country.
I love traveling. But living in another country is way different from
visiting it on vacations. The hardest thing was that my father radically
changed. He became a complete macho Mexican. He decided that after I finished
high school I would not go on to college. He wanted me to stay home and
learn to keep house so that I would become a good wife someday. This was
a devastating blow! I begged and pleaded with him. He wouldn't budge.
None of the women in the family of my generation or in the generations
prior had gone to college or high school. Few had even finished elementary
school. So why should I go? As far as he was concerned I was pretty educated.
What was I going to do? I was an American in a foreign country. For various
reasons, which I won't elaborate on, the Mexican colleges and universities
wouldn't allow me to attend their schools. One major reason, I had no
support of any kind from my parents. In Mexico as it is in most foreign
countries scholarships are only given to the citizens. So I was stuck.
What a blow! I had always dreamt of going to college! What would I do?
I decided I would teach English. At this, my father
became very angry and disowned me. I mustered up all the courage I had
and looked for a job. I found a position in a private school teaching
first and second graders English. In the evenings I took classes to become
an English Teacher. To make a very long story short over time I got my
teaching degree. The irony of it all was that I became faculty in the
very colleges and universities that hadn't allowed me in as a student.
Life is funny some times.
I decided to return to the United States when I was
23. I had been very happy and very successful being a teacher. But I really
wanted to travel to Europe so I decided to come back to the U.S. and earn
some dollars to help me on my future journey.
I wound up working at the California Institute of
Technology (Caltech) first as a receptionist, but over time I became editor
of two publications, Forefronts and the Faculty Information Listing. The
goal of these publications was to promote Caltech's top researchers to
the many Fortune 500 companies that contribute financial support to Caltech
across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan. In this position I worked
closely with the faculty, scientific and engineering community to translate
the technical aspects of their research into public-friendly ideas and
language. I was also the assistant to the Caltech Events Coordinator.
From Caltech I transferred over to the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) which is of course a NASA Center! Who would have thought?
I sure didn't! If someone would have told that little Mexican American
girl back at NASA Ames during that special field trip that she would one
day be working at NASA she would have said they were pulling her leg!
What I Do
I am now an outreach coordinator for the Mars Program. Although I
do not have a degree in public relations what got me this position was
the combination of all of my life experiences. Having been a teacher,
events coordinator, and an editor with graphics experience gave me a well
rounded experience for this position. At first when I saw the job posting
I thought, "Should I try?" I really hesitated. I wasn't a public
relations person. But I submitted my resume anyway. What was the worst
they could say? No. If they said, "No" I wouldn't be any worse
off. So I did it and got the job!
It's great! I do many events some even at Capitol
Hill in Washington, DC. I loan out models to museums. I deal with VIP
visits at JPL. So I have gotten to meet very interesting people. I lead
the Mars Area effort for JPL's Open House. I have gotten to travel and
do outreach at great places like Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I have
seen several spectacular launches. It has been fantastic.
What I love most is dealing with kids. I love when
they visit JPL. I love seeing the wonder and awe in their little faces.
I particularly love to roll an eight-wheel prototype Sojourner rover we
have over them. It has rubber tires and the kids just love it. Adults
do too! Isn't that an irony too? I was once myself a kid visiting a NASA
Center and now here I am leading the tours. Life has so many surprises!
What I like least about my job is not having enough
time to do everything I want to do! There's always so much going on.
Over my career at JPL I have been the recipient of
three JPL NOVA Awards. Two in excellence, and one in innovation and improvement.
I have also been the recipient of NASA's Space Flight Awareness Award.
am married and live in Pasadena, California. My husband's name is Terry,
and we have a precious three year old daughter named Ashley. We also have
two dogs, Arie and Meisha.
By the way, my father finally came to terms with the
fact that I was going to pursue a career. Both my parents are now my greatest
supporters and are very proud of me.
My Advice to Students
Follow your dreams! Don't let anyone set limits for you. In reality,
the person who will set the most limits for you is you. A very wise person
once told me, "Aim for the stars. If you don't hit the stars then
maybe you'll hit the moon. If you don't hit the moon, maybe you'll hit
the woodpile. If you don't hit the woodpile and all you do is fall flat
on your face you will still fall forward." So go forward! It doesn't
matter if you fall. You can get up, dust yourself off and try again. You
can achieve whatever you want if you really want it.