Dr. Ellen Ochoa: Standing Up for STEAM

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

By Brady Rhoades

When NASA Hall of Famer Ellen Ochoa encourages young people to reach for the sky, she’s not just using a figure of speech.

It’s literal.

Ochoa became the first Latina astronaut to venture into space when she went up in 1993. She served four tours and 1,000 hours in the cosmos from 1993 to 2002.

“I believe a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond,” she said.

After her trips to outer space, Ochoa served as Johnson Space Center’s director of flight crew operations and deputy director before becoming the head director in 2013. She is the first Latina and second female to lead the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Ochoa, who is retiring this May after 30 years with NASA, said NASA has done a good job of hiring Latinas and other minorities, but more can be done to urge minorities into STEAM fields.

“I plan to continue after retirement to encourage kids and adults—and especially women and minorities who are under-represented in STEM/STEAM fields—to reach for the stars!” she said.

Even as she was making history as the second woman and first Dr. Ellen Ochoa on Flight deckLatina in space, Ochoa’s focus was laser-sharp, her goals stratospheric.

She has a message for Hispanics, especially those held back by poverty and prejudice: STEAM is freeing.

“There are a lot of interesting and exciting careers when you study math and science and related technology fields,” she said. “For me, the key was really my education, so I tell people that it’s important to study and continue to take science and math classes throughout high school. I tell them to graduate from high school and go on to college. That will really give you a lot of options. I realize that a lot of the students I speak to may not end up as an astronaut or may not be completely interested in those fields, but I want them to at least make sure that they have options in their careers and that they think about setting high goals for themselves. People who become astronauts are very similar to a lot of these kids. They put in a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and they set high goals for themselves. That’s something that anybody can apply.”

Ochoa, married to Coe Miles and mother to two sons, was born in 1958 and raised in La Mesa, California. Her grandparents on her father’s side were Mexican.

Ochoa, a flautist who considered majoring in music, earned her bachelor’s degree in physics at San Diego State University in 1980, a Master of Science degree from Stanford University in 1981 and her doctorate in electrical engineering from the same university in 1985.

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first woman in space. That sparked a new passion for Ochoa, and she applied to NASA’s astronaut program. She tried three times before being accepted and worked at Sandia National Laboratories and the NASA Ames Research Center. In 1990, Ochoa was accepted into the astronaut program.

Aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 1993, Ochoa became the first Latina in space.

AstronautsThe nine-day mission was sent to study the effect of solar activity on the Earth’s climate and environment. Ochoa served as a mission specialist and used the robotic arm to deploy and capture the SPARTAN-201 satellite, which studied the solar corona.

She went on to serve as the payload commander aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 1994, a 10-day mission to further study the sun’s energy output and the Earth’s atmosphere. She also served as the flight engineer and mission specialist in the 1999 and 2002 missions to the International Space Station.

After retiring from flying, she took to her directorial role at Johnson right away.

“Leadership provides the ability to influence the things you care about most,” she said.

And what does she care about?

“I care deeply about NASA’s mission and its value to our nation—expanding scientific knowledge, engaging globally, providing both economic benefits and technology transfer applied to issues on Earth, and especially serving as a source of inspiration and pride,” she said.

Retirement is just a word. Ochoa’s work continues. She’s vested in the next generation of women and Hispanics.

Her message?

“Go for it!” she said. “There are many interesting, challenging, and rewarding careers associated with STEAM. Often, you have the opportunity to work as part of a team, solving problems and fostering new discoveries. As the tag line for the International Space Station says, we are working ‘off the Earth, for the Earth.’

“As a center director, ‘accomplish the mission’ is expanded to mean not only today’s mission but also tomorrow’s mission, ensuring that we have the appropriate workforce, facilities, and processes to lead human exploration well into the future. Taking care of our people has many aspects—recruiting a diverse group of people, ensuring they have career development and training opportunities, and focusing on an atmosphere of respect for each other where people feel valued.”

Ochoa has earned many awards and honors, including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. She has also received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award.

Ochoa won the 1995 Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award and was Spaceship Tunnelthe Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation Engineer of the Year in 2008. She has six schools named after her.

She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2017.

“I’m honored to be recognized among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind,” Ochoa said at the time.

Ochoa is a double pioneer: She’s one of an elite number of people who’ve meandered among the stars, and she broke ground for Hispanics while doing it.

She said she always looked at her heritage as a positive.

“It has added a whole dimension, I think, to my job,” she said. “When I originally applied to be an astronaut, I wasn’t really thinking about the whole sort of role model aspect of it. I was doing it because I was fascinated by space. I was studying to be a research engineer and realized you could do a lot of unique and interesting experiments in space. And so it was really wanting to be part of America’s space program and being able to apply my research.”

Along the way, she saw firsthand how important inclusiveness is—to a profession, to society. It makes sense to draw from a broad talent pool of Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians, females, males, you name it.

She started off working in STEM, for instance, and that’s evolved into STEAM, to include the arts. Bringing many unique perspectives to the table—be it with regard to culture, ethnicity and thought (let’s bring some artists onboard!)—is almost always a successful methodology, in her experience.

“We’d like to have all kinds of minds involved in our challenges, as well as in telling our story,” she said.

Latina progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be youngest member of Congress

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

Heavy rains on Tuesday didn’t stop voters from showing up at the polls and assuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of her congressional victory.

At 29, she will become the U.S.House’s youngest member of Congress.

“Rain is hard for turnout, sometimes people literally decide not to vote because is raining. Don’t do that,” said Ocasio-Cortez during Cosmopolitan’s Instagram-takeover on Election Day.

The newly-elected Congresswoman won on Tuesday night against her Republican opponent Anthony Pappas in New York’s 14th congressional district, which includes parts of Queens and The Bronx and it’s considered a safe Democratic district. “As the Congresswoman for New York’s 14th district, my job would be to basically commute between The Bronx and Queens and Washington D.C. to really write and pass the laws that would really govern this land,” said Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday morning during a radio interview with the New York-based station HOT 97.

Ocasio-Cortez first made national headlines back in June when she won her district’s House primary against Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley with a proudly progressive platform to address issues surrounding immigration, healthcare, education.

“We’re really fighting for a working class agenda. We’re fighting for universal healthcare. We’re fighting for tuition free colleges and universities. A 100 percent renewable energy, this is what — not just what our district needs — but what the city needs and what the country needs,” Ocasio-Cortez told HOT 97.

The 29-year-old first-time candidate of Puerto Rican heritage represents a district that is 46 percent Latino, 24.6 percent white, 16.4 Asian, and 11 percent black.

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The key to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s successful journey? It’s books


“I saw the possibilities of things that I could have never imagined without reading,” Sotomayor, the first Latina Justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, said.

She has one of the most influential positions in the country, but as a girl who did not grow up privileged, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor credits her incredible journey to one thing.

“The key to success in my life, it’s the secret that I want to share with kids and how I became successful. I’m here as a Supreme Court Justice only because of books,” said Sotomayor.

The first Latina Supreme Court Justice spoke to a packed main hall of over 2,000 people at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday at the 18th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival.

Organizers said Sotomayor is the first children’s book author invited to speak on the main stage at the festival. After the main hall filled up, several hundred more watched on monitors in the hallways.

“I wish every kid here could see that if I can do it so can you!” said Sotomayor.

An avid reader growing up, Sotomayor’s new book for young readers, “Turning Pages: My Life Story,” is a richly illustrated book that chronicles her life growing up in New York City.

“Reading books opened the world to me. Especially for children growing up in modest means as I did, books give you the chance to explore the wider world. Television and especially now the Internet don’t let you imagine,” said Sotomayor.

As a young girl growing up with limited economic means, it was a chance to explore and imagine a world beyond where she was living, with endless possibilities at her fingertips as she turned the pages.

“The power of words is in creating pictures in your mind and that is very special. As a child, I explored the world through books. I saw the possibilities of things that I could have never imagined without reading,” said Sotomayor. “I could have never imagined traveling to faraway places and now I do it, but that wish to meet other people and go other places came from reading. Books were the key to deciding to become what I am today.”

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Google Doodle Celebrates Mary G. Ross. Here’s What to Know About the First Native American Woman Engineer


Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 110th birthday of Mary G. Ross, the first Native American woman engineer. Over the course of her five-decade career, Ross achieved many firsts and made major contributions to the aerospace industry.

Here’s what to know about the trailblazer, born on Aug. 9, 1908, who opened the doors for future female engineers in the field.

Who Was Mary G. Ross?

Great-great granddaughter to Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation, Mary G. Ross was born in the small town of Park Hill in Oklahoma. Raised with the Cherokee value of learning, Ross pursued a path considered nontraditional for women. After receiving a degree in math from Northeastern State College, Ross taught math and science until she returned to school to earn her master’s in math from Colorado State College of Education.

What were her contributions to aerospace?

In 1942, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company hired Ross as mathematician. But after a manager recognized her talent, Ross was sent to UCLA to earn a classification in aeronautical engineering. Lockheed then rehired her as their first female engineer. Ross would go on to work on major projects such as the Agena rocket, which was a crucial step in the Apollo program to land on the moon. She also was a part of SkunkWorks, a top-secret 40-member think tank where she was the only women aside from the secretary. Ross’ work there involved developing initial design concepts for interplanetary space travel, including flyby missions to Venus and Mars.
“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she once said according to Google. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”

How did she open the door for women?

Ross also devoted herself to encouraging women and Native Americans into careers in the field of STEM. She was a fellow of the Society of Women Engineers, where she established a scholarship in her name to support future female engineers and technologists. To support fellow Native Americans, Ross also worked closely with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes to develop their educational programs.

Continue onto TIME to read the complete article.

Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?


In a stunning primary upset, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a young socialist activist, woman of color and political newcomer — has unseated leading House Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s deep-blue 14th Congressional District.

Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a former organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and a one-time staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, ran on an unalloyed leftist progressive platform, calling for a “political revolution” that includes Medicare and higher education for all, gun control measures, an end to private prisons and the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

The district Ocasio-Cortez hopes to represent is in the Bronx and Queens; roughly 50 percent of the people there are immigrants — and she says they’ve been yearning for a representative who speaks to them, and speaks for their needs.

“We’re having an affordability crisis in New York City,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition on Wednesday. “We have a security crisis with our current immigration system, and I think I was able to allow our community to really feel seen and heard, and visited and advocated for.”

Ocasio-Cortez said she wants to abolish ICE because the agency represents the militarization of immigration enforcement.

“What we’re basically saying is that the structure of ICE — in a similar manner as the structure of the Patriot Act — is kind of built on a scaffolding of questionable civil liberties infringement and abuse,” she said. “So what we’re really talking about is re-imagining immigration to be humane, and in a way that is transparent and accountable.”

Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, whom many saw as a possible successor to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should Democrats win a majority in November.

As for whether she feels Pelosi should continue to lead Democrats in the House, Ocasio-Cortez said she’s open to the idea of new leadership in Congress. She added: “I think it’d be inappropriate to commit to any one individual before we’ve even won back the House in November. Let’s make sure we do that, and then we can have that conversation.”

Meet Ralphy Lozano, the Veteran Making History as the First Gay Latino Mayor of this Bordertown


Years before Will and Grace became a groundbreaking hit TV show and even before comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out, Ralphy Lozano was standing up for the LGBTQ community. In popular hangout spots, such as bars and restaurants, around his traditionalist town, the teen and his high school-aged friends gathered and refused to hide their true selves, essentially disrupting the status quo. Now, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran has made history by becoming the first openly gay candidate elected to public office in the South Texas town of Del Rio. The proud first-time candidate received 62 percent of the vote and dethroned incumbent Robert Garza, who served as mayor for four years.

Lozano ran on a platform for change and unification for all in Del Rio. For him, this meant focusing on the issues and values that connects his constituents. “I don’t believe I’m going to get too far if I start going under one identity. I have to think about unifying the city,” Lozano tells me.

He didn’t receive campaign donations from any LGBTQ groups, and he didn’t necessarily seek their support. As a matter or fact, Lozano is about $5,000 in debt after his successful grassroots campaign. But his queerness is an important aspect of his identity. Last year, Lozano marched as part of Del Rio’s Veterans Parade in heels, which garnered national headlines – something that caught him by surprise. He didn’t view his choice as a political statement, but rather something that is part of who he is.

“I’ve always thought that veterans’ parades recently have been so dreary, and I feel like we should be celebrating veterans,” he adds. “Some of us have experienced some really traumatic experiences in war zones and losing friends and suffering from PTSD, but we survived. We survived the worst that humanity has (to offer).”

Continue onto Remezcla to read the complete article.

WWII Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne Sr. dies in Arizona at 92


Navajo Code Talker Roy Hawthorne, who used his native language as an uncrackable code during World War II, died Saturday.

At 92, he was one of the last surviving Code Talkers.

Hawthorne was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and became part of a famed group of Native Americans who encoded hundreds of messages in the Navajo language to keep them safe from the Japanese. Hawthorne served in the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific Theatre and was promoted to corporal.

The code was never broken.

“The longer we live, the more we realize the importance of what we did, but we’re still not heroes — not in my mind,” Roy Hawthorne said in 2015.

But Hawthorne’s son, Regan Hawthorne, said Monday his father leaves a proud legacy.

“They went in out of a sense of duty and a spirit of responsibility to their country,” Regan Hawthorne said, adding he didn’t know about his father’s military service until he was in his 20s.

“I grew up not knowing my dad was a Code Talker. He never talked about it, didn’t see the need to talk about it,” he said.

The Code Talkers believed they were just doing their job, he said, and shied away from receiving accolades for their service.

“When we read about the effect the Navajo Code had on shortening the war because of its effectiveness, we think about the guys who did that,” Regan Hawthorne said. “(But) they’re simply humble men who performed what they sensed to be a duty to protect all they cherished.”

He said his father and other Code Talkers returned home from the war and “simply came back to work and went back to making a life.”

As of 2016, there were about a dozen Code Talkers still living. The exact number of Code Talkers is unknown because their work was classified for years after the war ended.

Continue onto AZ Central to read the complete article.

Retiring this year, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, first Latina in Congress, defies stereotypes


As she exits Congress, Ros-Lehtinen goes out as a Latina who has stayed close to her community while keeping herself from being pigeonholed.

In biographies and profiles, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., is often followed by, “the first Latina” or “the first Cuban American” in Congress.

Ros-Lehtinen has always embraced the descriptions tagged to her name, but as she exits Congress, she goes out as a Latina who has stayed close to her community while keeping herself from being pigeonholed.

“She’s really an icon in the community for a number of reasons,” said Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. “Not only is she a Republican congresswoman, but she’s been able to transcend the rigors of just being (known as) a Cuban American woman.”

In an interview Tuesday, she tried to answer the questions of an NBC News reporter while also being the doting grandmother, dressing up a Latina Barbie on her granddaughter’s electronic device while they waited for the Natural History Museum to open.

Actor Richard Gere and the television personality and Olympic medalist Caitlyn Jenner were to be in Washington Wednesday for the annual Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute’s annual gala. But the star of the event is Ros-Lehtinen.

The institute is recognizing her with its Leadership in Public Service Award and Leadership in International Relations Award. The institute is renaming the latter award The CHLI Ileana Ros-Lehtinen International Leadership Award.

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

Sphinx Organization Secures Exclusive Corporate Support of All-Black and –Latino Orchestra


Mercedes-Benz Financial Services to present the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra in 2018

Detroit – Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has enhanced its long-standing partnership with the Sphinx Organization, a national nonprofit dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts, as the presenting sponsor of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra for the 2018 season. This new support of the symphony complements Mercedes-Benz Financial Services’ long-standing sponsorship of the Sphinx Competition Audience Choice Award.

“We are thrilled to expand our existing partnership with Mercedes-Benz Financial Services,” stated Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization. “Their continuing support allows us to highlight the importance of inclusion in the field of classical music, both in our communities and the around the globe.”

The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra is the world’s first orchestra comprised of America’s top Black and Latino classical musicians. The ensemble includes past and present members of nearly a dozen of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious orchestras, as well as faculty members of leading music institutions in the country. Some of the organizations represented include:

  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • The Cleveland Orchestra
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
  • New York Philharmonic
  • Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House
  • Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra

In addition to performing, the musicians of this ensemble fulfill a unique role. The orchestra members serve as mentors to young musicians and teachers through master classes and lectures. Plus, the group promotes works by Black and Latino composers.

“At Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, we aim to provide rewarding, life-changing opportunities in the communities where we live and work,” said Mary Beth Halprin, director of Corporate Communications for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.

“In the 14 years we’ve been partners, the Sphinx Organization has impacted thousands of individuals across the nation. We are pleased to be able to continue to grow that impact globally through our sponsorship of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra.”

Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has been a supporter of Sphinx and its mission since 2004 – previously providing support for Education and Access, Artist Development and Performing Artists programs. The company’s philanthropic efforts are rooted in long-term partnerships with organizations committed to creating positive social change in four focus areas: Education; Community Enhancement; Arts & Culture; and Diversity & Inclusion.

The 21st Annual Sphinx Competition, presented by DTE Energy Foundation and hosted by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, will be held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2018 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Details related to acquiring tickets to attend the Finals Concert on Sunday, Feb. 4, may be found at www.DSO.org.


About the Sphinx Organization

The Sphinx Organization is a Detroit-based, national organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Sphinx programs reach more than 100,000 students, as well as live and broadcast audiences of more than two million annually. Sphinx works to create positive change in the arts field and in communities across the country through a variety of programs organized into four main principles: Education and Access, Artist Development, Performing Artists and Arts Leadership. Read more about Sphinx’s programs at www.SphinxMusic.org.

About Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA LLC

Mercedes‐Benz Financial Services USA LLC, headquartered in Farmington Hills, Michigan, with Business Center Operations in Fort Worth, Texas, provides brand‐specific financial products and services for Mercedes‐Benz and smart automotive dealers and their retail customers. In the U.S. trucking industry, it conducts business as Daimler Truck Financial and provides flexible financial products and services for Daimler Trucks North America commercial vehicles branded Freightliner, Western Star, Thomas Built Bus and Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America, Inc.

Mercedes‐Benz Financial Services USA LLC serves as the headquarters for operations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, and has approximately 2,242 employees throughout the Americas. It is a company of the Daimler Financial Services Group, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, which does business in 40 countries and has an employee base of approximately 12,062 people worldwide. Daimler Financial Services is one of the leading financial services organizations worldwide and was ranked fifth out of 25 on the list of the World’s Best Multinational Workplaces by the Great Place To Work Institute in 2016. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA LLC was also named one of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials in 2015 and 2016, and one of the 100 Best Workplaces for Women in 2016 by Great Place to Work and Fortune.com. For more information, please visit www.mbfs.com/corp or www.facebook.com/mymbfs. For more information about Daimler Truck Financial, log onto www.daimler-truckfinancial.com.

In a fight for much-needed green spaces, these Latino advocates bring a winning formula


Viviana Franco attended high school in an affluent Southern California neighborhood that had tree-lined streets, walking trails and parks.

When she went home at the end of the day, she was greeted by a starkly different neighborhood that had liquor stores, broken sidewalks, potholed streets and no green spaces.

Franco grew up in Hawthorne, California, a city in Los Angeles County that was transformed by the construction of Interstate 105, an east-west highway that runs between Los Angeles International Airport and the city of Norwalk. The project left a number of vacant lots along the freeway, including one on the corner of 118th and Doty where Franco and her friends would play baseball and tag.

The lot was 13,000 square feet and was consistently littered with debris such as old couches, used condoms and syringes, Franco recalled, making it unsuitable for kids to play on.

“But we did,” she said. “We had no other choice.”

It was Franco’s experience with that particular vacant lot to which she credits as the catalyst for a non-profit she established in 2007 called From Lot to Spot (FLTS), which is dedicated to developing green spaces in low-income communities.

Since its inception, FLTS has opened and organized four parks, including Bicentennial Park, as well as five community gardens, one bicycle trail and one large urban tree canopy in the greater Los Angeles area.

“In these neighborhoods we have so many of these vacant lots that no one takes care of, nobody takes accountability for, so we have no parks,” she said.

Noticing all the neglected spaces in her community, Franco asked: “Why don’t we make a park here?”

Franco is among Latino advocates across the United States fighting to increase parks and enhance accessibility to green and open spaces for Hispanic communities, which struggle to access these spaces that are available in many other neighborhoods, according to a 2015 report by Hispanic Federation.

In Los Angeles County, where Franco’s organization is based, the disparity in park space is significant. According to a 2016 report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the city of Malibu has 55.5 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, versus 0.7 acres in East Los Angeles. The racial makeup in both areas is also significantly different: in Malibu, about 93 percent of the population is white, while East Los Angeles is approximately 97 percent Latino, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Green spaces and parks have been linked to a multitude of positive outcomes including better health, less stress and stronger communities. But in neighborhoods where these places aren’t available or easily accessible, residents aren’t able to enjoy these benefits.

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s great idea for teaching civics to English-language learners


The U.S. has an estimated 4.6 million English Language Learning (ELL) students, of which 3.4 million are Spanish speaking. According to iCivics, an education non-profit, students tend to struggle more with social studies and civics because the academic language used is difficult, and teachers have limited training and resources to help them.

Enter Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, who sits on iCivics’ board, envisioned making a game available in Spanish that teaches U.S. civics in a more approachable and engaging way.

The result is ¿Tengo Algún Derecho?, a Spanish-language translation of “Do I Have a Right?”, which was first released in 2011. The game teaches the fundamentals of American civics and how U.S. democracy works by familiarizing students with American civil liberties. It challenges players to run their own law firms that take pro-bono cases in which clients’ constitutional rights maybe have been violated.

“Do I have a Right?” was first released in 2011. Since then, the game, which is free of charge, has been played nearly 9 million times.

“Supporting students is a cause very near to my heart,” said Justice Sotomayor. “We need all young people engaged in the future of our democracy. Initiatives such as this one mark an important step towards ensuring that, no matter what language they speak, all young people have access to the knowledge and skills they need to fully participate in those important conversations.”

Studies have found a link between an American’s knowledge of U.S. civics and their participation in the voting process, regardless of party affiliation.

“Young people who recalled experiencing more high-quality civic education practices in schools were more likely to vote, to form political opinions, to know campaign issues, and to know general facts about the US political system,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), about a study released in 2013. “Civics education was not related to partisanship or choice of candidate. These results should allay political concerns about civic education being taught in schools.”

Kristen Chapron, the project lead for iCivics’ new release, said that what makes their game so effective is that it’s experiential learning. Each game is about a half-hour, and students can pick what type of avatar they want to be. “Rather than sitting in a classroom and listening to someone talk, or reading a textbook, the students get to be the lawyer. You have control of the game and you remember it more,” said Chapron.

Having Justice Sotomayor working on this project, said iCivics executive director Louise Dube, has made a big difference. “I think it is her mission in life to be an inspiration to her community, and to kids in particular,” said Dube. “For someone who has come from such humble origins and has achieved so much, it is transparent to the kids and they really identify with her.”

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.