“I call it my humble background.”
Rosa V. Avalos Chumpitazi speaks fondly of growing up in Peru, where her parents were educated only through middle school, started working as children and sometimes went without shoes. Her mother had 12 siblings and her father 11. As a girl, Avalos helped at her maternal grandmother’s fig farm, and today she is a mechanisms and operations engineer with Boeing, working on NASA’s International Space Station (ISS).
“I tell students they too can become rocket scientists. I have seen it in my own life,” said Avalos, who earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering (MECH) from Rice University in December 2015.
For her accomplishments in engineering and community outreach, Avalos was honored with a 2016 Luminary Award at the 28th annual Great Minds in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corp.) Conference, held October 5-9 in Anaheim, Calif.
“I’m very proud of this honor but the thanks really should go to my parents. They made sure my brothers and I received good educations. My brother Miguel was the first person in my family to go to college in Peru for a degree in engineering, and now he’s a systems engineer,” Avalos said.
She earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2012, and went to work for Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security pision in Houston. Avalos works in the unit responsible for maintaining the ISS’s solar array wings (SAW’s) and beta gimbal assemblies (BGA’s). The space station is powered by eight large photovoltaic arrays that resemble wings, and the BGA’s are the joints that rotate the SAW’s.
“We sustain these mechanisms for the safety of the crew and for the ongoing success of the mission,” said Avalos, who worked toward her master’s degree at Rice while also working for Boeing at NASA.
“It was a lot of work and long days, but my supervisors were very supportive, and we put together a well-defined schedule at the beginning of each semester,” she said.
Along with her job and education, Avalos has remained busy with outreach work. She served as a NASA panelist at Hermanas in STEM, a presenter at the SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) Houston Regional Leadership Development Conference and a panelist at the Houston Hispanic Forum. At the invitation of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, Avalos spoke to students about STEM education and career opportunities.
She is also the Houston president of the Boeing Hispanic Employee Network and secretary of the Boeing Women in Leadership.
“It’s a way of giving back a little of what has been given to me,” Avalos said.