91

Meet Johana Aguero-Fischer

Alumni Profile – Johana Aguero-Fischer

Johana Aguero wearing a blue NASA shirt against a background of  blue sky with a rocket blasting off into spaceJohana Aguero-Fischer graduated from 91 Community College with an associate’s degree in Engineering and then transferred to Virginia Tech. She’ll be graduating in Spring 2023 with a job already lined up at Boeing.

Listen to the podcast below, Voices of 91, or read the transcript here.

Podcast: Voices of 91

Welcome to Voices of 91. This is Marianne McGhee and Voices of 91 is celebrating the college's 50th Anniversary and we are the 91 Red Hawks, everybody. Our students really have what it takes to fly, and I mean that quite literally about our alumni guest today. Johana Aguero-Fischer was kind enough to make a pit stop to the Parham Road campus on her way back to Virginia Tech.

91: Johana, welcome and thank you so much for being here. We are delighted to have you back. Now, remind me when you graduated?

Johana: When I graduated from 91? The summer of 2019.

91: 2019. OK, so you've been at Tech since then and you know, every student who completes their degree is excited and relieved to be offered their first real job using what they learned at 91. You absolutely learned a lot. In fact, you're still learning. You are a Virginia Tech student and you're set to graduate in May 2023, correct?

Johana: Correct.

91: But this is what's really exciting, because in a moment I'm going to ask you where you're about to start working. But let's save that for just a second. Let's start with what you were studying and why you decided to study it?

Johana: I've always wanted to do something in space and so I started at 91 in mechanical engineering. I got my associate's degree here so that I knew I could transfer that over to Virginia Tech to get an aerospace engineering bachelor's degree. That’s where I currently am. I'm a senior there and I've been working since 2020. I've been working for Navair which is the Naval Air. I've been working on military aircraft for the last two-and-a-half years.

91: What kind of work have you been doing on military aircraft?

Johana: My branch is called Flight Dynamics. We problem solve a lot for aircraft performance. I can't give too many details. I do have a secret clearance for working there. But we do a lot with aircraft, we help get them through the certification with the FAA.

91: I just wish everybody could hear Joanna, just casually saying that she has security clearance with these aircrafts. She's very casual about it. That is extraordinary. And if I am not mistaken, you are about to start another exciting opportunity. Tell us about that.

Johana: Over the summer I was given the opportunity to attend the AIAA Aviation and Aeronautics Forum (AIAA Aviation Forum), which was an aviation conference back in July. That gave me the opportunity to meet several different employers in aviation and I got offered several jobs. I decided to go with Boeing, so I will be starting with Boeing as soon as I graduate.

91: Johana are you just wildly excited about that? We're so excited for you! How do you feel about that?

Johana: I teared up when I started getting all the offers because all the hard work that I've been pushing through is really paying off. I'm starting to see it! I think at some point a lot of students go through what's known as the impostor syndrome, where you feel like you're not good enough or you don't belong. So, just meeting those employers, being face-to-face and being able to talk to them — and getting their feedback, really made me feel like it was all worth it. And I do belong there. That is where I belong.

91: You absolutely belong there. And that sense of belonging is so important to us here at 91. Let's talk a little bit about that. What made you decide to choose 91? Take us back to a few years ago when you were making a big decision about what you were going to do for higher Ed?

Johana: I am a non-traditional student. I am married with a son who is now 10 years old. But back then, when I started at 91, he was about three. So, I hadn't finished college when I was you know 18-19, I just couldn't afford it at that time. But I decided because of my son, I'm going to go back to school. I'm going to do it. If I have to be away from him, it should be for something that I love doing. And I've always wanted to get into space. I just never had enough push to do it or thought I was capable enough. But when I came to 91 and I took a placement test, I guess I didn't anticipate for it to be as hard as it was. But I had to start from scratch — like from the beginning — mathematics. Because I was out of school for so long. But I did it. I didn't question it. I said, “You know what this is — What it's going to take. I'm going to do it!”

91 provided me the opportunity to do that. I felt very lucky that I got some great teachers here at 91 and they helped me through. They had patience with me. They met with me after class and before class to help me out. And that makes really, all the difference — those teachers that really help you get there — to the finish line.

91: Absolutely! We've heard things from our alumni, and I’ll use a specific example of a student who ended up in engineering at Virginia Tech, who say things like, “I was really nervous. I was thinking of coming from this Community College … I’m at Tech now, how am I going to do it?” He did beautifully! He did so well and said he felt so prepared because of his experience at 91. What was that like for you when you transitioned to Tech?

Johana: The transition my first semester — I was a bit overwhelmed because of the number of classes. I had never taken that many classes at once because I have a family at home. I always juggled my schedule with my son’s schedule. When I went to 91, I went part-time, which was nice because 91 provided the flexibility.

Virginia Tech is a whole different story. It's like you must be going full time. So, the first semester I was pushed to take five classes. That was a little overwhelming, to say the least. But it was nothing that I couldn't do. I remember being at 91 and the nights I had to sacrifice sleep to get stuff done, to study. I think because I had to balance that out with my son’s schedule it pushed me to do better. At Virginia Tech, the transition was fine. It went smoothly. I was just focused on doing the best that I could in my classes.

91: Absolutely, yes indeed! And if I'm not mistaken, were you part of the NASA Scholars program while you were here.

Johana: Correct.

91: Tell us what your experience was like at 91.

Johana: In 2016, I completed a program over the summer or the fall. I was really excited about it because even being at a Community College I felt like I really needed more exposure to industry, aviation, space, anything I could get my hands in. Anything that was for students and for free — any opportunity I could get into. So, I kept looking online. I searched and I found the NASA program. It was great because they had just started that program at NASA to try to get students excited about getting into the industry. So, I started that. It was an online program. But if you delivered great content and succeeded in the program then you would be selected for an on-site competition at the Kennedy Space Center. I was one of 15 out of 400 total that were selected.

91: Oh, my goodness! I did not know that piece. That is extraordinary.

Johana: It was very exciting. It was a very emotional moment for me when I finally got there. I was like, “Oh my gosh! It's finally happening!”

91: Johana, one of my memories of you is that you were in our first honors cohort. I feel like this is one of the wonderful things about students generally. But I feel like our non-traditional students, in particular, are so serious about taking advantage of every opportunity. They are sacrificing family-time. They're sacrificing work hours, and so often, they’re trying to get there on their own dime, to some degree. I mean they're doing it along with financial aid and scholarships, but it's still out of the family pocketbook. I have so much respect for people who say, “I'm going to do this!” and come back. Because it's not a little thing.

What advice would you give to a student or a potential student who's wondering, “Can I do this?” What helped you get through? What advice would you share?

Johana: I set my mind to do it and at the beginning I had a few doubts because I was afraid of leaving my son, which is why I had started school. When he was three, I was able to put him in a preschool as I just didn't feel right about leaving him with a babysitter. It was also during this time period that my husband didn't have a degree, either. We were struggling and I knew that for my family's sake I had to push through. I had to get us into a better spot, a better situation. I did not want this to follow my son through his lifetime — where the legacy I leave him is to struggle. I'm a first-generation college grad. To me, this means so much because I was able to break the cycle.

I guess the advice I would give students is, it's not impossible. You're the only one who stands in your own way. I know many people think, “Well, what about the cost? What am I going to do? How am I going to pay for it?” It will work out if you truly are determined. You'll find your way. You just have to be able to think it, say it, and do it!

91: Bravo! You are a young professional who has done all of those things. And we are so proud of you, and excited for you, Johana! Thank you and we look forward to just following your trajectory.

91 Community College is a launchpad for so many great things. It is a launchpad and you were a perfect example of that. Congratulations on your degree in Aerospace Engineering and your fantastic opportunity with Boeing.

And, for everyone who is listening, I think Johana's story and the story of our alumni that we've spoken about through this series, shows there is an opportunity for every student here at 91. Regardless of your circumstances or backgrounds there is a community for you here. Our students have a fan club and a cheering squad behind them.

It's just been terrific to see that payoff for Johana. So, thank you Johana and thank you everyone for listening to this edition of Voices of 91. We'll catch you next time!

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