Katya is wearing a blue flight suit from the company Blue Origin

Katya Echazarreta became the first Mexican-born woman in space when she was invited to join a Blue Origin flight in 2022.

City College grad earns outstanding alumni award

February 26, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

Former San Diego City College student Katya Echazarreta, who went on to work as an electrical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and later became the first Mexican-born woman in space, has been honored as one of just three people selected by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) as a recipient of its 2024 Outstanding Alumni Award.

Katya stands next to a large blue sign of the NASA logo
Former City College student Katya Echazarreta worked as an electrical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The AACC is the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges. The association represents more than 1,000, two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and nearly 12 million students.

The honor is the latest for the City College alumna whose accomplishments include earning the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship that enabled her to attend and graduate from UCLA and securing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Echazarreta currently serves as president at Fundación Espacial Katya Echazarreta, a nonprofit she founded to encourage and prepare young people, women and children, as well as scientists and engineers in Mexico, to develop the knowledge and skills for carrying out advanced studies in the cosmos.

“At community college, many students see the pathway to their future clearly for the first time, and their lives are transformed,” said AACC President and CEO Walter G. Bumphus. “This year, AACC will recognize three alumni who experienced that transformative power, and who, in turn, are now changing the lives of others. These outstanding alumni are truly deserving of the term ‘outstanding.’”

Echazarreta is San Diego City College. She benefited from an array of campus organizations and programs, including First Year Services, a staff of dedicated counselors, Peer Mentor Services and the college’s MESA Program, an acronym for Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement.

Echazarreta wasn’t even thinking about attending City College while acing her classes at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. But a four-year degree program right out of high school was out of her family’s budget. Then she learned about City College and made what she has called the best decision of her life.

“Everything I’ve accomplished is a direct result of City College and the San Diego Community College District,” said the native of Guadalajara who moved with her family to Chula Vista when she was 7. “I would not be here today if it were not for the education and support I received at that campus.”

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