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St. Philip's ECHS student shares love of science

Leah Hernandez LCATSLeah Hernandez loves science. 


"I love it — every part of science," Hernandez said. "I can't fathom how much I enjoy it."


The ninth grade student at St. Philip's Early College High School started building her passion for science, specifically space exploration, at an early age. Hernandez remembers being fascinated with anything related to astronauts and space during her Pre-K classes.


“I’ve known I wanted to be an astronaut since Head Start,” Hernandez said. “I always enjoyed the kids’ shows and cartoons that talked about space and astronomy-themed things.”


She has jumped headfirst into those things this year, as one of only three students in the district (there are two others at CAST Tech) and 30 students in the city to be accepted to this year’s cohort of the WEX Foundation’s LCATS program, a three-year NASA-commissioned program that allows middle and high school students to work alongside aerospace and other industry professionals to tackle real-world space exploration challenges and offer solutions through an array of investigations, experiments and design projects. 


“Part of the program is working with NASA researchers in real time,” Hernandez said. “Some students are doing research and giving it back to NASA. It’s pretty cool.”


Her journey to this point was shaped all throughout her formative years, but took a major turn when Harris science teacher Orlando Rummans learned of her interests and recommended that she apply to the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) at UTSA – one of the pools of talent from which the WEX Foundation recruits for the LCATS program. After participating in the PREP program, she learned about the LCATS opportunity, and applied.


She got in. Now considered a Junior NASA consultant, she meets with her cohort every other Saturday. Concepts addressed by the LCATS program, which stands for Lunar Caves Analog Testing Sites, include the development of rockets and other large infrastructure in Earth’s orbit and within lunar lava tube caves on the moon.


Though LCATS keeps her busy on the weekends, she’s also working another major project to share her love of science – fundraising with the SAISD Foundation to provide robotics and Lego kits to elementary school students, trying to inspire a future generation of engineers.


A self-proclaimed tinkerer, Hernandez loves puzzles and building things, which started with robotics and Lego kits she received in first grade.


“My drive to be an aerospace engineer didn't happen overnight,” Hernandez said. “It started because early in grade school I was introduced to building robot kits, building Legos, and solving as many puzzles as I could get my hands onto.”


The projects, while fun, also taught her invaluable lessons in engineering. 


“In the process of losing a tiny piece of a Lego build, I learned how important a seemingly insignificant piece of plastic can be — valuable information for an aspiring engineer,” she added.


She’s trying to put those lessons in the hands of the next generation now.  


“I really enjoyed engaging in building and solving problems,” Hernandez said. “I want other kids to have as many opportunities as possible to engage in exploring the same things that I find interesting."


Throughout her high school years, Hernandez hopes to raise $7,500 to provide robot and Lego kits to 150 students, just one more way she shares her love of science. 


If you are moved to be part of her project, you can donate to the SAISD Foundation and put “Leah’s Lego Kits” in the comments.

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