Put Fear Aside, Becoming Extraordinary Takes Calculated Risks

By Monica Ochoa, Mechanical Systems Design and Analysis Engineer, The Boeing Company

This regular girl who grew up playing AYSO soccer at Smith Park, eating Yogurtland at the town center, who attended Magee Elementary, Burke Middle and El Rancho High School graduated from her dream university and now works at her dream job.

When I look back to when I graduated from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, I didn’t realize all the challenges I would be faced with in the coming years, not to mention all the growing I would do as well. The summer after graduating high school, I began at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN as an Aerospace Engineering major and as a first-generation college student. Moving to a brand new state and being in a completely new environment was an opportunity for me to extend my boundaries out of Pico.  Most of my high school counterparts stayed relatively close to home; however, I knew that if I wanted to not only do well, but excel in my career, then I would have to take calculated risks, the first being open to moving and becoming independent.

My four years at Notre Dame were the most challenging years of my life, as I struggled with adjusting to a different climate, both environmentally and socially. I failed countless times, but the important thing is I never lost focus of my dream for a better future. My parents were my strongest supporters, as they always reminded me that even though I came from a different place than most students there, I was just as capable and intelligent as them. I began to get involved in different activities around campus, including being on the Notre Dame Rocket Team (NDRT), participating in La Misa en Español, helping Latinx Campus Ministry and being a part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. My largest involvement was with NDRT, and that is where I really found my passion for the space industry. The proudest moments of my undergrad career were winning the Altitude Award in the NASA Student Launch Competition and being elected as the captain of the 75 members on the team my senior year.

During the spring semester of my senior year, I was presented with an opportunity to interview for a full-time position at The Boeing Company. Thanks to the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation, I was able to become very involved with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and through their conferences I was fortunate enough to receive interview skills and training. On that front, I felt very prepared going into my interviews. Also thanks to the Cisneros Foundation, I was able to make a connection that led to my two years of interning at the City of Pico Rivera Engineering Department. Those years of experience prepared me for the technical qualities the job at Boeing required. Along with the help of my fantastic education at the University of Notre Dame, I landed my dream job with The Boeing Company.

I did it. I graduated from my dream school with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, and I decided to take another calculated risk in moving to Huntsville, AL to begin my dream job with The Boeing Company. Moving to a different state for college was difficult, but I knew it was temporary. Moving to a different state for a full-time job, was even more difficult because there isn’t a definitive end in sight. The thing is, after looking at so many of my role models, I’ve come to see that people who take risks even when they’re scared don’t become just ordinary people; they become extraordinary people. They’re the people that make a difference and impact their community, their industry and in some cases, even the world. I believe that every kid with a dream should strive to not be ordinary, to be extraordinary and take some risks, even when you’re scared of the unknown.


Today I am a Mechanical Systems Design and Analysis Engineer at The Boeing Company in Huntsville, AL. I work on the Space Launch System, which is a project for NASA with the goal of putting the first humans on Mars. I plan on beginning a Master of Engineering program next fall and in the future, would like to work towards a Master of Business Administration. I’d like to apply to be an astronaut one day and help lead the aerospace industry in space exploration. Aside from my technical career, I would like to begin my own scholarship foundation in honor of my parents and help Pico Rivera students attend college, just as the Cisneros and so many other people have helped me along the way.

I will never forget where I come from, and I know that I will always think back to the amazing community of support I have at the City of Pico Rivera. I hope every parent, student, community resident who reads this can see that if a regular girl from the south side of Pico can achieve her dreams, anyone else can too. Si se puede!