Sophia Sánchez-Maes – #VoicesofJAF

July 29, 2016 by mitchellcohen
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16:  Attendees and award winners are seen at the Jefferson Awards Foundation 2016 National Ceremony on June 16, 2016 in Washington City.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for Jefferson Awards Foundation)

“Public service is hard. It’s sometimes discouraging, and oftentimes isolating, but looking at the stars that surround me in this room alone, I feel so much stronger. As I’m sure all of you do as well. And that’s why I call on you to not just shine, but to light a fire in your communities and to really change the world.”

Sophia Sánchez-Maes believes that science and technology are powerful vehicles for change. She would know after researching how to optimize biofuel production and working with NASA to explore Mars and beyond. As an 18 year-old student at Yale, there’s little doubt that all she has achieved will be eclipsed by what lies ahead.

In June Sophia won a Jefferson Award for Outstanding National or Global Service by a Young American 25 or Under

Sophia discovered her love and math and science at an early age, and her parents always encouraged her to keep going no matter how difficult the subject. After watching the health of the Rio Grande River decline without any action to preserve it, she became emboldened to use her knowledge for good. “By then, I’d learned to be frustrated by inaction,” she told Yale News. “Now I aim to solve problems with science, while striving to be a voice for those without.”

For her efforts to achieve energy-positive wastewater treatment using an extremophile algae from Yellowstone, she was recognized by President Obama and honored at the Teen Choice Awards. With NASA, she has contributed to both the Curiosity Rover on Mars, the Mars 2020 mission, and the Exoplanet Exploration division.

Always wanting to expand opportunity, Sophia created Girls Get Tech, a series of summer workshops for young Latinas in Los Angeles. A current Yale student, she has taken every opportunity to coach, mentor, and teach — serving as a powerful role model for young Latinas as she innovates in these traditionally underrepresented fields.

Her optimism for the future and her determination to shape it know few bounds. Upon receiving her Jefferson Award she said, “The next time you look up at the sky, I want you to realize that each one of those starts is a sun. And that we aren’t just citizens of the world, but citizens of a cosmos filled with many others. And in feeling so small, we become bigger than ourselves. That’s why these awards are so very important. Because public service is hard. It’s sometimes discouraging, and oftentimes isolating, but looking at the stars that surround me in this room alone, I feel so much stronger. As I’m sure all of you do as well. And that’s why I call on you to not just shine, but to light a fire in your communities and to really change the world.”

Donate today to honor more heroes who deserve recognition and inspire more Americans than ever before to engage in public service. 

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