| Oct 14, 2015
California-born José Hernandez didn’t learn to speak English until he was 12 years old. Young José would travel throughout the state for nine months out of the year to farms, where he would work in the fields alongside his siblings and immigrant parents to pick strawberries, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, and tomatoes. In December 1972, a fascinated 10-year-old José sat in front of his family’s old black-and-white console TV to watch Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan make the last walk on the moon. It was at that moment that José decided: “I want to be an astronaut.” Despite his determination and the excellent graduate engineering education he later received at UC Santa Barbara, NASA rejected him for the astronaut program 11 times. But Hernandez didn’t give up, and the 12th time was a charm. In his 40s, he was finally accepted into the program, and he reached his dream to fly in space as an astronaut.
The Stockton boy who overcame many challenges grew into an adult with numerous achievements to his name. Among them: At Lawrence Livermore Lab, Hernandez co-developed the first full-field digital mammography imaging system to aid in early detection of breast cancer. He founded his own engineering consulting firm, Tierra Luna Engineering. He created a nonprofit foundation that aims to ensure opportunities for children to pursue their educational and professional goals regardless of perceived obstacles. A San Jose middle school was named after him. He has received six honorary doctorate degrees. He was UCSB School of Engineering’s Commencement speaker in June 2014. And he has written a biography (no ghostwriter, he says; “I wrote every single word”) called “Reaching for the Stars,” which will be made into a movie next year directed by Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate,” “A Walk in the Clouds”).
It is because of these achievements and others that the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association has named Hernandez (M.S., Electrical and Computer Engineering, 1986) UCSB’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus. Hernandez, 53, will be honored on Saturday, Oct. 24, at an awards luncheon in Corwin Pavilion.
Read the full article on the GradPost.