Latinitas Gets Girls into Tech


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Out of all the people earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), just eight percent are Latinos. That number shrinks even more when you look at the number of Latinas (female students).

Alma Benitez was one of those Latinas trying to break into the STEM field, but she faced more obstacles than the prejudice she faced being a Latina: her family hid her college acceptance letters because they didn’t want her to leave home for college. With pressure from inside and outside the home, Alma found support in Latinitas, an after school club for Latinas in Texas that encourages young Latinas to get excited for science, with the hopes that they’ll grow up and pursue a career in STEM.

Reporter Brenda Salinas gives us a glimpse at the particular struggle Latinas face in the world of STEM. She speaks with Alma about her struggle to pursue her dreams, and with Laura Donnelly, the founder of Latinitas, who’s also a Latina computer scientist.


Welcome to the High-Flying, High-Risk World of Texas Cheerleading


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Fall can only mean one thing in Texas: football season.

As fans and players enjoy the throes of high school and college football season, many leagues, schools and parents are tackling the threat of concussions with safety-conscious policies like increased concussion testing and mandatory return-to-play protocols.

But research suggests more focus should be given to the athletes on the sidelines as well: cheerleaders.

At the Cheer Athletics Club in Austin, three teenaged girls weave their hands into a basket. A fourth girl — she’s the flyer — jumps into their hands as a coach watches. The girls propel her into the air. She twists twice, scissors her legs and lands in their cradled arms.

The club’s varsity team is perfecting a new move, and this learning stage is the most risky. There are hundreds of aspects in a jump that can go wrong. But usually, the flyer is caught safely by her teammates.

Not everyone is so lucky. According to a 2013 report in the Journal of Pediatrics, cheerleading causes tw0-thirds of all catastrophic injuries in high school girls.

Michael Reardon heads the concussion clinic at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin. He says severe injuries to the spine and neck are relatively rare in cheerleading, but concussions are common and underreported.

“Every month we’ll see a couple of cheerleaders that had a crash and it’s either the flyers who are being thrown up in the air or it’s the people that catch them that end up being injured, so those guys are definitely at risk of concussion,” Reardon said.

A concussion is a type of traumatic injury caused by a blow to the head that shakes the brain inside the skull, but you don’t have to lose consciousness to get one.

Concussions are better tracked in football. The NFL admits that brain trauma affects 1 in 3 players. Those statistics have raised concerns about head injuries in youth sports like football and soccer, but not so much in cheerleading.

Gerald Ladner, a coach at the Cheer Athletics Club, explained how he tests for concussions.

“If the eyes are dilated, I close her eyes,” Ladner said. “I open it up and see and if they dilate even further. If I have a question on it I take her to a dark room, turn the lights off, turn the lights on…I do a finger test to see if she follows the eyes and if her head starts to shake, that’s when we show a little more concern.”

The best way to deal with a concussion is to rest. But that’s easier said than done. Annie Bodenschatz, a 15-year-old cheerleader, sustained a concussion four years ago while practicing for a competition, but she refused to keep herself out of the contest. She didn’t want to let her team down.

“I blacked out for a second and then I had all the symptoms and stuff, but I didn’t go to the doctor until after the competition because I had to compete a few minutes later.”

Reardon said athletes should be fully recovered before playing again.

“If somebody has had a concussion, then doing tumbling and gymnastics becomes very risky in terms of aggravating their symptoms,” Reardon said. “If somebody hasn’t fully recovered and they’re having difficulty with their reaction time or balance or coordination, then there’s significant risks.”

Dawn Comstock researches high school sports injuries at the Colorado School of Public Health. She specifically tracks cheerleading injuries.

“The practice-related injury rate in general and concussion rates more specifically are higher than injury rates in competition or in the case of cheerleading, in performance,” Comstock said.

That’s not the case for the 16 other sports in her data set. Comstock explained why.

“The injuries that are occurring among cheerleaders are occurring on many different surfaces,” Comstock said. “They’re occurring on asphalt, on tile floors, on wood floors, on grass, and if cheerleading isn’t considered a sport in some states, then cheerleaders might not have all the advantages of all the other sports in school.”

Those advantages include proper tumbling mats and qualified coaches. That’s why Bodenschantz didn’t try out for her high school’s team.

“From what I hear, they get hurt a lot because they don’t have very experienced girls,” Bodenschantz said. “They always make them tumble even when they don’t really know how and they don’t really have great coaches teaching them, so I feel like high school cheer is a little scary.”

In Texas, the University Interscholastic League voted this summer to allow cheerleading as a sport, but that classification doesn’t start until next year. At the high school level, schools can’t legally use cheerleading to qualify for Title IX funding, which could potentially bring better equipment.

That doesn’t mean cheerleaders aren’t athletes. Especially at the highest levels of competition where aerial twists, flips and other acrobatics are common, it means they’re at risk.

Latinos In Space!


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Ellen Ochoa was 34 years old when she served in her space mission aboard the shuttle discovery in 1993.


Dr. Ochoa went on three more missions and even played her flute in space.



She told NPR’s Michel Martin that she didn’t really think about herself as the first Latina astronaut until she started receiving thousands of letters from excited Latinos all across the country. “After I was selected I realized that there was a whole dimension that I hadn’t thought about,” says Ochoa, “that was the opportunity to talk about exploration and science and engineering and education to a whole group.”

NASA Astronaut Ellen Ochoa

In 2013, Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.


José Hernandez grew up working in the fields alongside his migrant farmworker parents. Then in 1972, he saw something that would change his life.

He told NPR that he remembers watching the moon landing on TV. “I remember I would sit there and I would go outside and look at the moon, come back in, watch Gene Cernan walking on the moon, go back out, and I was just amazed that we had humans up on the moon a quarter of a million miles away,” says Hernandez.

Hernandez applied to be an astronaut 12 times before getting chosen in 2009. “You go up there and you taste it once, and you want to go back, absolutely,” Hernandez told NPR, “there’s no doubt in my mind, day after I got back I wanted to go back, it’s almost addicting.”

Hernandez didn’t get to go back. That same year, President Obama delivered a budget to congress calling for the end of the shuttle program. Hernandez decided to leave NASA to spend time with his 5 children.

Mexican astronaut Jose Hernandez waves t

“When you train for a shuttle launch, 95 percent of the training is here at Johnson Space Center, so you come home every day,” he told NPR, “The international Space Station, it’s more like a two-and-a-half year training flow, and 80 percent of those two-and-a-half years you’re training abroad.”

Even though the shuttle program is suspended, astronauts continue to inspire us.


It’s not just the astronauts who paved the way for people of color. On the ground, Latinos built equipment, programmed computers and created software to make sure those shuttles took off. Candy Torres was one of those pioneers.


A self-described “Technorican”, Torres has worked on satellites, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Torres was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents in 1954. Growing up, she was inspired by the vision of the future depicted in Star Trek. “It was stunning to me to see this diversity out there and exploring and really working towards a better future,” says Torres, “this is a positive vision of the future, this is what we need to work towards. “


When she was 14, Torres joined the Civil Air Patrol and learned to fly a plane before she could drive a car. She studied astrophysics at Rutgers, worked on satellite research and developed software for the shuttle program.

“When you’re first starting out you really have to know what you want and it’s not necessarily other people that are going to keep you from doing what you’re going to do, it’s yourself,” says Torres.


Torres now focuses on encouraging Latinos and Latinas to pursue careers in science and engineering. “You can do it, it’s exciting, its fun,” she Torres, “its understanding the universe and its being connected to the universe and making the world a better place.”

(Photos by NASA via Getty Images/ Courtesy of Candy Torres. )

Breastfeeding While Latina

89429968-e1395339620956Get the full story at Latino USA.


Latinas lead the pack when it comes to breastfeeding their babies at birth – more than 80 percent of Latina moms do. More Latinas nurse their children at 12 months than any other ethnic group in the country. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about breastfeeding, and a lot of pressure to get it “right” – whatever that means.


Yuliana Delgado really felt this pressure. She had read all of the parenting books, but one thing wasn’t according to plan. “I was pumping every 2 – 3 hours, I would get up through the night and pump,” says Delgado, “I was drinking maltas like you wouldn’t believe to try to increase the production and nothing was working.

After struggling for 2 months, she made a decision. “I realized I had to start supplementing not only for my baby’s sake, but I was wreck,” says Delgado.


Luisa Colón was dealing with a completely different breastfeeding problem. She lived in a large Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn. She says the Latinas around her were shocked that she was still nursing her 20 month old. “It was this moment of “you’re still breastfeeding?” says Colón, “I think the expectation was that that’s what you do early on, you supplement with formula, you move on to formula, the breastfeeding gets left behind.”

Colón felt like she had to defend her personal choice to strangers. “I was constantly being told that my baby wasn’t chubby enough, he’s so small, oh how old did you say he was and how much does he weigh?” says Colón, “I must have had to answer that a dozen times.”


Sharen Medrano is a local lactation consultant, and she says she hears this a lot. “Some of this stems from the misconceptions,” says Medrano, “some of it stems from some in the Latino community thinking that babies have to be chunky and chubby to be healthy when in fact most breastfed babies tend to be on the leaner end.”


The argument about how much to breastfeed really takes off online. “There’s so much judgement out there,” says Delgado, “I felt like that’s great that moms are able to breastfeed and that the support is out there, but once I decided to do formula, I felt like there wasn’t that much support out there.”

And on the other side of the breastfeeding spectrum, Luia Colón also felt a lack of support. “I was used to being a Latina who got a lot of support from fellow Latinas just being out in public, and suddenly it wasn’t there,” says Colón.


A strong support network at home is crucial, “I was really fortunate that we went home to a supportive environment, my partner and my family,” says Colón.

Yuliana Delgado eventually found a way to be at peace with her choice.

“My mom was the provider of the maltas, so I did get some pressure from her, but she understood after she saw what a wreck I was that it was just not going to be possible for me to do it,” says Delgado.

There’s so many factors to consider to deciding whether you want to breastfeed and for how long.

“In the end it’s your baby, and you know what’s right and you know what feels right and what you want to do,” says Medrano.


As in so many health decisions, when it comes to breastfeeding, ignore the haters. Feel free to make your own choices, but know what you’re getting into.

After all, breastfeeding is just the start of the mommy wars.

Why Being Latin@ Is An Asset In Tech

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It can be hard for Latinos to break into the field of tech, they often lack social capital and funding. Tech writer Sara Inés Calderon and DIY Girls founder Luz Rivas join Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa for our live show in Austin to talk about these obstacles and why they believe being a Latino is actually an asset in the world of engineering and innovation. Later, Rivas shows off one of the prototypes her young Latina students made – an interactive video game called “Dance Dance Chancla Revolution.”


Photo courtesy of Getty images.

Running Tips From A Latina All-Star


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How do you embark on an adventure? Take it one step at a time!

Next month, Maria Hinojosa is doing something she’s never done before — training for a race! Ahead of her first 5k, we called all-star runner Brenda Martinez for some training tips.

 Photo courtesy of New Balance. 

B2 Running Tips_Headshot_BrendaMartinez_Getty

At the recent IAAF Track & Field World Championships in Moscow, Brenda Martinez became the first American woman to win a medal in the 800m. She ran her personal best and won the bronze medal. Martinez, 25, is from Rancho Cucamongo, CA and the only Latina on the national track and field team. Martinez started running at five years old and became the first person in her family to go to college when she attended UC-Riverside. She won the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 1,500m and was a three-time NCAA All-American. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. 

Latina Wonder Women


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There’s been a lot written in the past year about women balancing work and family, but what that means for Latinas can be complicated — especially in the world of business. Do they tone down their cultural differences to be accepted in the workplace? Maria Hinojosa talks to the president of Barnard College, Debora Spar. In addition to leading the women’s Liberal Arts college, Spar wrote the book Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection.

A1_DEBSPAR_HEADSHOT_CREDITBARNARDCOLLEGE Debora Spar is president of Barnard College and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Wonder Women:  Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.  Prior to her arrival at Barnard in 2008, Spar was the Spangler Family Professor at Harvard Business School, where her research and teaching focused on political economy and the various ways in which firms and governments together shape the rules of the global economy.  Spar also serves as a Director of Goldman Sachs and trustee of the Nightingale-Bamford School.


Rodeo’s Barrel Race Puts Women In The Saddle

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The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the biggest rodeos in the world. Rodeo athletes come from all over the U.S. and Canada to compete for some of the biggest cash purses in the sport. And it’s not just cowboys in the ring. Cowgirls compete in the sport of barrel racing, where they trace a looping pattern on horseback against the clock.

Three empty oil drums are set up in a triangle 60 feet apart. The cowgirl, on horseback, darts out of the gate and runs tight loops around each barrel in a clover-leaf pattern. The turns are so fast that the horse looks like it’s at a 45-degree angle. There’s a five-second penalty for knocking over a barrel. The riders compete one by one, the fastest time wins. It’s fast, and it’s dangerous.

Christy Loflin is a professional barrel racer from Frank Hills, Colorado. She’s wearing jeans tucked into western boots and a black cowboy hat. Loflin got into the sport 14 years ago. She had been showing horses all her life when she met her husband, a professional rodeo athlete. She wanted to compete too. She says it’s hard work. There are long hours and a lot of losses before you get any wins.

She says it takes a tough person to rodeo, “not only do you have to have an amazing horse, but you have to be an amazing rider and be super talented. So, I think that is pretty inspiring to a lot of little girls, to try really hard and to keep come up through the ranks.”

There’s something else Loflin finds inspiring. Rodeo might be a male-dominated sport, but in the ring, women get equal pay. A win in the first round will get you $1200. The grand prize winner walks away with $50,000. That’s the same amount the ropers and bull riders get.

Loflin says it’s a dangerous sport. You can get knocked off your horse, stepped on, it can fall over while you’re still in the saddle. But her hard work just isn’t enough tonight. Her loop around the first barrel was a hair too wide and cost her a few seconds. She placed seventh out of eight. Christy Loflin has two more chances to advance to the finals here, but if she doesn’t make the cut, she can earn money by winning smaller rodeos throughout the year or focusing on her primary source of income: selling horses to other barrel racers.

Women Enlistees Use Video Blogs To Share Advice With Other Recruits

Dolly Marie Spice shares her boot camp packing list with her 2,000 followers.
Dolly Marie Spice shares her boot camp packing list with her 2,000 followers.

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In today’s volunteer force, when women sign up, they may have questions about military life that are different from the ones men would ask. Many female recruits turn to video blogs for advice.

Dolly Marie Spice is a senior airman in the Air Force Reserves. When she first enlisted, she was looking for a little advice and not just about hair styles. She turned to YouTube and even there, her search turned up empty. So she started blogging about her own experiences. So far, she has made 30 videos where she talks to her 2,000 followers.

Usually, when recruits want to find out what life in the military is really going to be like, they go to their recruiter. But women who are signing up face different challenges, have different questions and men don’t always have the answers.

Sergeant Bridget Jackson works in an Army recruiting station in Largo, Maryland. All the female recruits in the area get forwarded to her. She says they tend to be very inquisitive.

“They want to know how do I feel about leaving my family; are we able to wash our hair and take a shower. And I don’t know what myths they heard of but they want to know, as a female, if I’m out there in Afghanistan, am I out there in the middle of nowhere not taking a shower”.

Her newest recruit, Erica Mason, has those doubts, too, though she’s not completely uninitiated; she comes from a military family and she did Junior ROTC. That means she’s ready for the culture shock. But she’ll be away from her two kids for 17 weeks. When she talks to her husband, a retired Marine, there are things he just doesn’t understand.

“I always tell him, you went in right after high school. You had no family. You’ve never left kids that you gave birth to or your spouse. That’s pretty much like nothing that anybody can understand, unless you went through it and you’re a mom and you left your kids for boot camp or you left for deployment or something. Nobody understands”.

Sergeant Jackson, her recruiter, understands. She was a single mom when she deployed. Now she talks to her recruits about everything, from how she used to get her nails done on base in Afghanistan to how she advanced in her military career.

She describes herself as a hot commodity. The men in her recruiting office can’t do what she does. In her company of 40 soldiers there are only three women.

That means most women have men for recruiters. So when they want advice from women already in the military, they go online to interact with bloggers like Spice.

There are more than 20 other bloggers like her on Youtube. They’re from every branch of service, active duty and reserves. They answer private questions and offer support. Video bloggers aren’t recruiters but they fill a void for women signing up with questions about everything, from what to do with their hair to how to say goodbye to their kids when they go off to war.

Beauty Pageant Economics: The Sash Isn’t Cheap

Coburn Dukeheart/NPR
Jessica Bermudez, 24, models a dress at Deja Vu in Alexandria, Va. Bermudez is competing for the title of Miss District of Columbia USA, and says she regularly enters beauty pageants.
Coburn Dukehart/NPR

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Miss America’s walk might look effortless, but her road to success probably cost more than you think.

Ten-thousand women will compete in a Miss USA-sponsored pageant this year. That organization is just one of more than 15 small circuits, each with its own local, state and national competitions. It’s a big industry. From the organizers, designers and coaches, lots of people make money — except the contestants.

Twenty-four women are in the running to become the latest Miss District of Columbia USA.

When competitor and graduate student Jessica Bermudez went to Deja Vu, an Alexandria, Va. boutique specializing in pageant gowns, the price tags were as dazzling as the dresses.

Store manager Derek Ferino pulled out a gown for Bermudez to try on — a floor-length royal blue number with rhinestones on the front. The price tag: $3,000.

Bermudez, 24, won’t say how much she paid for the dress she eventually chose, but Deja Vu’s evening gowns start at $700. Some cost as much as $4,000.

If you thought Bermudez’s parents are signing the check, you’d be wrong. She uses the money she earns working part-time at as a technical project manager at the National Institutes of Health to pay her way through the pageantry world.

Bermudez also gets sponsored by local businesses in exchange for promoting their products, and she spends a lot of time fundraising.

Coburn Dukeheart/NPR
Beauty pageant contestants often need multiple pairs of shoes, like these seen at Deja Vu, per pageant to accompany different outfits. That alone can get pricey.
Coburn Dukeheart/NPR

A Costly Crown

Carl Dunn, CEO of Pageantry magazine, says pageants are big business.

“First of all, you have the event itself, that’s what you’re looking at,” Dunn says. “Then behind that, you do have the designers, makeup artists, trainers, facilitators, possible sponsors.”

Victory Mohamed, the current Miss Baltimore and third runner up in this year’s Miss Maryland America competition, works as a pageant coach. She says if you want to compete seriously, you need to be prepared. And that means money.

“If you’re doing it right, you would have to spend at least $500 to $2,000 on a gown for a U.S.A. Pageant, $200 for an interview outfit, including accessories, shoes that whole thing, and $50 to $300 on a great swimsuit,” Mohamed says.

That’s just the clothes – not even the makeup. And then there’s coaching, which can range from $40 to $300 per hour. Mohamed charges $50.

“But I think, doing it right, I would definitely invest in the coaching, in the fitness trainer, in the makeup, in the outfit,” she says. “You can’t get to Miss America or Miss Universe without doing it right, doing it all the way.”

It can pay off though. Mohamed says she won a scholarship that helps her pay for graduate school. Pageants also helped launch her professional pageant and image consulting company that she runs out of her basement studio.

‘Well Worth It’

If Bermudez can persuade the Miss D.C. judges to give her the crown, she’ll win a cash price of about $1,000 and the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss USA next summer. But even if she doesn’t win, she says competing in Miss D.C. USA is a great investment.

“You get experience with public relations and getting your message out there,” Bermudez says. “My personal message is to promote STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — so I think it’s very well worth it.”

Bermudez says she feels confident about her chances.

“You always go in with high hopes,” she says. “You go in as prepared as you can, but you never go in expecting anything.”

It seems like the only thing all the contestants can expect is a hefty price tag.