Growing up on Army bases throughout Puerto Rico in the 1990s, Joan Melendez Misner remembers playing with Barbie dolls like little girls do. She also remembers spending a lot of time pretending she was a scientist and looking at fake bacteria under a toy microscope.
“I’d put my little lab coat on and be like, ‘Oh, that’s E. coli,” Misner, 32, told Remezcla. “I was always drawn to question how things work. For me, that started with science.”
Along with playing scientist, Misner’s inquisitive nature also led her to look up at the sky at night. When she was living in the mountains in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, she had the perfect view of the stars.
“There wasn’t a lot of light at night, so I was able to really look at those stars,” she said. “That sparked my curiosity. Can we touch a star? Can we go to space?”
Today, Misner is an aerospace engineer at NASA and uses her social media platforms to inspire others – especially young girls and minorities – to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Misner’s curiosity followed her to Orlando, Florida, when her family moved to the mainland when she was in the sixth grade. In high school, she started taking more advanced classes in math, chemistry and physics. Her plan was to become a doctor. However, those plans changed the first time she volunteered inside a hospital emergency room during her first year of college; she realized there could be a problem with her medical aspirations.
“I found out immediately that I could not be a doctor because I passed out when I saw a whole bunch of blood and needles,” Misner said. “It was the best and worst thing of my life. So, I had to course correct a bit, but still found my way into a science career.”
After graduating from the University of Maryland and Towson University with a dual bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and chemistry, Misner, who also earned a master’s degree in systems engineering, worked at NAVAIR, the Naval Air Systems Command for the U.S. Navy. That was followed by a stint at Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company, before she found her way to NASA in 2020. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s never boring,” Misner said. “I’m juggling 3-4 missions at a time.”
While Misner loves her job working on the “testing side of things” at NASA, she never forgets about those times in the mountains of Barranquitas as a little girl, looking at the stars and imagining herself reaching out to grab one. Misner would still like to get that close to the stars herself. With more private companies giving people opportunities to venture into space, the odds have never been better. Currently, Misner is in the initial stages of training with an astronaut corps program at Uplift Aerospace. Although she can’t reveal when her mission to space is set to launch, she’s excited about what she will see.
“I know it’s going to be life changing for me,” she said. “I really just want to look out that window.”
Until then, Misner will continue her critical work with NASA and reach out online to kids and teens to share with them her experiences being an aerospace engineer. It’s her goal to break down barriers and show everyone that becoming an engineer or a scientist is an attainable goal. She wants them to know that “not even the sky’s the limit.”
“I want Latinos and other diverse groups to feel comfortable going into that field,” she said. “I want to open that door and get people to elevate themselves. Inspiring the next generation to continue to launch rockets is something that just makes me tick and makes me feel good about giving back to my community.”
Through the series “Work in Progress,” Remezcla and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have partnered to share the stories of Latines who are pushing the boundaries in new and not-yet-so-explored industries. JPMorgan Chase and Remezcla are committed to advancing inclusive opportunities for those interested in careers in tech. Learn more about tech careers at JPMorgan Chase here.