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Brooke Owens Fellowship recipient Raven Delfina Otero-Symphony stands in front of the UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel.

UNM student first in state to receive Brooke Owens aerospace fellowship

 From aspiring to be an astronaut as a child to becoming the first New Mexican to ever receive the aerospace Brooke Owens Fellowship, University of New Mexico senior Raven Delfina Otero-Symphony is making her dreams come true. Chosen among the top 5% candidates in the most competitive year for the fellowship yet, Otero-Symphony will begin her summer fellowship in Washington, D.C. after graduating from UNM as a first-generation student in May.

Selected after an intensive process that included multiple interviews and written submissions, Otero-Symphony will be working for the fellowship program for approximately 12 weeks at Avascent, a global strategy consulting and analytics firm. All 51 fellows selected will come together during the summer for the annual Brooke Owens Summit in Washington, D.C.

As the first New Mexican ever chosen for this fellowship, Otero-Symphony is proud to represent her state and where she comes from.

“For me, knowing especially that I’m the first New Mexican, I feel really honored; I feel very proud to be 10th-generation New Mexican. I feel a little bit of pressure — I want to best represent my state and the incredible creativity and brilliance that I believe is unique to New Mexicans here,” Otero-Symphony said.

Margo Chavez-Charles, a former honors program professor of Otero-Symphony, said her in-depth STEM and humanities background, as well as her enthusiasm, curiosity, leadership, compassion and more, will allow Otero-Symphony to succeed.

“The kind of dedication she puts into whatever project she’s involved in, I think that will make her successful,” Chavez-Charles said.

Majoring in statistics, minoring in Spanish and pursuing an honors designation at UNM, Otero-Symphony said after studying in humanities fields originally, UNM’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program helped her reconnect with the science, technology, math and engineering fields and gain “that confidence to go back to what my dream was to pursue aerospace.”

The fellows were chosen out of more than 1,000 applicants and “represent more countries, races and ethnicities, and gender minorities than any previous class,” Emily Calandrelli, one of the five fellowship leaders, said in a press release sent out on Jan. 27.

Coming from a diverse lineage, Otero-Symphony often feels a sense of isolation as a white-passing Hispanic individual, not feeling like she completely belongs to any one group. However, she said this has made her more passionate about inclusion and versatility, which shouldn’t be based on if “you don’t look the part or you don’t play the part.”

“I know where I come from and it doesn’t really matter (what) other people’s opinions of me are. I’d rather show it through my work ethic and I’d rather show it through showing up to make a point or open up that door for a conversation,” Otero-Symphony said.

Chavez-Charles said this sentiment is why Otero-Symphony is the perfect candidate for the fellowship. Chavez-Charles said Otero-Symphony “wants to be a representative of her own culture.”

Otero-Symphony said it’s important as a woman to recognize “the footsteps of the people who have come before you” and acknowledge their stories. Fighting against feelings of imposter syndrome, she tries to step up to lead when it’s needed but also step back when others’ voices should be more prominent.

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“Even though I am a woman in STEM, I also want to make it such a way where you don’t constantly have to bring that up in every conversation, sort of striking a balance between ‘I’m a woman and I’m a scientist,’ and if I do the work and you bring yourself there, then you belong,” Otero-Symphony said.

Chavez-Charles said what makes Otero-Symphony stand out is “her willingness to try things outside of her comfort zone and just to explore new paths.” She noted that Otero-Symphony is a very special person and one of the most interested students she’s ever had. 

“I feel like I'm somebody who wants to try a little bit of everything, but I think my primary draw to STEM, aerospace aside, is the application and the ability to make a physical change in advancing society’s interests but also still having that individual component of critical thinking and challenging yourself and contributing to a community of dialogue and research that’s been ongoing for hundreds of thousands of years,” Otero-Symphony said.

Otero-Symphony, on the lottery and Woodward scholarships at UNM, said research programs have been important for her as a first-generation student, especially the El Puente Research Fellowship and MARC program. Otero-Symphony also interned with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health last summer in the department of biostatistics.

Looking ahead, Otero-Symphony wants to pursue graduate school after her fellowship and ultimately get a Ph.D.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716 

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