Flying kites in the nearly crystal-clear nights of Tanapag was the lit match that sparked a dream in the mind of Lean Teodoro—a feat that she thought would only stay a dream—until a few months ago, when she completed an internship program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory last summer.
“My interest in space is rooted in those kiting nights at the beach in Tanapag. My dad taught my sister and I how to make kites out of coconut midrib, plastic bags, and sewing threads. Those nights where the night sky was crystal clear filled with stars was beautiful, but there was this one special night when the moon was absolutely amazing that I couldn’t stop staring it for hours. Since that night, [my interest] in human space exploration began,” she said.
Teodoro, a Marianas High School alumna, said the NASA internship program gave her the opportunity to work with near-earth objects, i.e., meteoroids, asteroids, or comets, “which I thought was pretty cool because it was something I have never been exposed to before…It was also a great learning experience for me, having to do research that is not in my field.”
Teodoro is currently in her last year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Geology and Geophysics. “Since I moved to Hawaii on my own, I went seeking out for all the opportunities I could to get my hands on at NASA. I realized how amazing UH-Manoa is, especially the strong and encouraging network of my school (School of Ocean, Earth Sciences and Technology or SOEST).
“I’ve been linked to my first research mentor, Heather Kaluna, through a mentoring program called Maile Mentoring Bridge Program, where they bring in underrepresented students and pair them with a mentor. Since then, Heather has been one of the people who has made a huge impact in my undergrad career. Without her, I would not have landed a research fellowship for the NASA Hawaii Space Consortium for three semesters and…an internship at a place I have always wanted to work at, that is NASA JPL,” she added.
Her time in the internship program not only taught Teodoro more of science but also a good philosophy about life. “One of the greatest things I have learned and realized was that life is all about connections,” she said. “Almost all the friends I have made at NASA JPL came in through a connection and my successes in college were all through connections. I reached out to every possible individual who I thought could help me pave my career path and you’d be surprised at how many nice people there are in this world who really care and would help you reach that goal of yours, especially if you are a minority and a woman pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” she added.
Her journey has not been a walk in the park. “The greatest challenge since I moved out here was money. Oahu is an expensive place to live but I knew how strong their connections with NASA was and so I went for it. I had to take out student loans but I don’t regret any of it and I believe that it was probably the best investment I had in my life.”
“When I took my first physics and chemistry class, I was so lost compared to most of my peers who already had the opportunity to learn these things but I pushed through. I knew the field that I was going to get into would be hard because of the lack of STEM teachers during my high school days, but I always told myself that there is always room for improvement,” she added.
Science is definitely in Teodoro’s future but, in the meantime, she wants to be an encourager to CNMI students who like her, have big dreams.
“To my whole CNMI family, I know how scary it feels at just the mere thought of leaving home and going into the unknown, not knowing what to expect. I knew the feeling of being comfortable, safe, and secure if I just stayed on Saipan, but the hardships I have gone through since moving to Hawaii and transitioning into this new life, I do not regret one thing,” she said.
“There are opportunities out there waiting for you—it can be opportunities to pursue a field you’ve always wanted to do or a place you have always wanted to travel or a new culture you’ve always wanted to explore but, more importantly, opportunities for you to grow, to learn new things that will completely change your life for the better. We may come from a small island, but this doesn’t define us and our goals in life.”