Student Spotlight: Stephanie Ortiz
- Tell us about yourself and your journey into the Goodnight Scholars Program
I started off at a very young age wanting to learn more about the world, and always looking for new ways to absorb as much information as possible. It could be something as simple as asking my parents about the things around me that I didn’t understand, or switching out my toys for multiplication cards so that I could increase my proficiency in math before starting school. Growing up, my love for learning never stopped, but rather evolved and manifested itself in different ways. At the beginning it was purely about academics, striving to have the best grades but also a strong understanding of topics. As I began high school, however, I started to take more time getting to know who I was as a person, and all of my identities that made me my complete self. This provided me with a new subject of learning, which was about my community, social causes, global occurrences, and how to not only be productive in society, but how to be a friend to even those you don’t know well. That is what led me to the Goodnight Scholars Program. When applying for GSP, I read about not only the importance of being a passionate and high-achieving student, but also the importance of celebrating diversity, supporting your community, and being an advocate in society. These are actions I strive to follow every day, and hope to grow to be a quality example of them.
- How do you see your identities impacting how you interact with the world around you?
As a woman of color who is also queer, all of my identities work in a combined effort daily to provide me a perspective of the world that I would not have otherwise. Each identity has a community attached to it that makes me feel an increased sense of belonging, something that has saved me from feeling ostracized or disadvantaged for simply being the person that I am. Knowing that you will always have people in your corner who understand you on a deeper level than others could, despite the ongoing societal challenges you face as a collective, make life that much more wonderful to live. Those connections are treasured ones, and they have provided me with a new level of empathy and desire to be that support system for others. Regardless of if we share identities or none at all, I strive to be someone people feel they can come to as a safe space where they know they will be accepted and loved, not pre-judged or criticized. I wish to not only be a support, but also an advocate for others.
- Have you always felt supported in being yourself?
In all honesty, the journey towards feeling completely comfortable and happy with myself has been a long one, and this was not helped by the environment I grew up in. I am queer and I always have been; but in my 18 years of living only in the last couple have I actually allowed myself to embrace it.
I grew up in a religious household, which meant that from the very beginning my views on things would be skewed. Not only that, but in the early 2000s-2010s, representation for LGBTQ+ people in the media and daily life was nowhere near where it needed to be. All of the love stories I knew were centered around a heterosexual couple; being gay was never a thought that could have crossed my mind. Therefore, for many years I thought I knew everything about myself; yet there was this piece of me that I felt deep down was always missing, and as it turns out it was the way I never fully grasped my perception of love. Through high school, I had well-formed my own opinions on the LGBTQ+ community, and became a very vocal ally despite the protest of my parents. Yet by the end of high school, I felt a unfamiliar longing for freedom that I saw in openly queer friends, role models, celebrities, etc. that I never understood until the day I finally accepted that I knew the answer to a question I had been asking myself for years. So then Ibegan to come out to friends, and to the public, thinking that I would feel fulfilled. But there was always that reality hanging over me that my parents could absolutely never know.
For people like me who don’t have accepting parents, you can never be “fully out” to the world because you now understand that those who are supposed to love you unconditionally actually do have conditions that could permanently impact your security and relationship with them. I know the same is true for lots of LGBTQ+ youth who don’t have enough support or independence to risk coming out, and I wish I could tell them all how proud I am of them for who they are and how having to hide your identity from your family and even friends does not make you any less part of the community.
Over these years I have had to unlearn all of the harmful prejudices against my identities, support myself for who I am and know that is what truly makes my identity valid, and surround myself with people who would love and support me as a chosen family. Today, looking back at who I used to be and how hard it was once to love myself, I can with confidence now say that I have grown to love every aspect of who I am and all that I have yet to become.
- What is your major and how did you choose this area of study?
My current major is Aerospace Engineering, with an intention to focus more on the astronautical-aspect and potentially minor in Meteorology to further my interest in space weather. I chose this area of study because I have always had an immense love for space and the outer world. When I was a child I wanted nothing more than to take my telescope outside and look at the moon for hours, but it took me a while to realize that I could take that passion and turn it into a career. Before the start of high school is when I learned about aerospace engineering, and throughout it I researched more into the career, even attending a summer camp to get first-hand knowledge of it. Now, I am excited to start more of my major-specific classes going into sophomore year, and especially looking forward to the space electives (such as rocket propulsion and intro to space flight) that I can take during junior year.
- What do you want to do in the future? How do you see your major, interests, and identities intersecting to influence the work and impact that you want to do?
As far as my occupation is concerned, I aspire to work in the space industry with a very influential company that thrives on innovation, and works towards the future of space technology. We have so much yet to learn about space as well as the systems and structures that are required to explore it, and I want to be a part of that process and discovery of the remarkable things that exist out there. However, with how important my identities are to me, and the impact self expression through writing and other forms has had on my life, I wish to do more than just that. In addition to minoring in meteorology, I want to minor in Journalism. Creative writing and Journalism provided me an outlet to not only be able to put my experiences into words, but also document and appreciate the beauty of others’ stories. I hope to travel and journal about different cultures at a point in my life, and learn even more about the world around me. However, first I want to start with having an impact on my communities. Activism is of critical importance to me, especially considering how many injustices people who share my identities, and other marginalized communities I am not a part of, face. I want to be in a position where I can help make productive, positive changes and have a strong voice for those who need it, and against those whose intentions are to oppress people for being who they are. In order to do this, I want to try and join organizations and become more active in the unceasing fight for equity. Overall, with all that I do and all the more that I grow in life, I wish to impact society in a valuable and meaningful way.