Memorial senior Yahaira Perez is an accomplished student. One of her favorite activities is orchestra, where she plays violin.
Perez at the Hispanic Heritage Foundation Youth Awards where she was one of 21 award recipients. Perez was awarded at $1,000 scholarship in the mathematics and engineering category, sponsored by ExxonMobil.
Memorial senior Yahaira Perez has received a wealth of praise in her 18 years, including the Rising Star Award from State Rep. Carol Alvarado and the Pasadena Rotary Youth Leadership Award. But none of these compare to her admission to the 2015 NASA High School Aerospace Scholars.
“One of my proudest moments was becoming part of the aerospace scholars program,” she said. “This program changed my perspective on many things.”
In order to be chosen for the program, Perez completed a six month online course. Her scores were high enough to qualify her for a week of training and experiences at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She was able to participate in briefings by NASA engineers and scientists, team projects directed by NASA and hands-on engineering activities.
This was especially exciting for Perez, who plans to further explore the field of STEM after graduation.
“I’ve always been curious about what makes things work,” Perez said. “My ambition for knowledge makes me want to know why things are the way they are and how to make them better. Science and mathematics are like another language to me and once you learn it, you look at the world differently.”
This love for STEM subjects and curiosity for the world around her should serve her well at Texas A&M, where she plans to pursue a degree in civil engineering.
“Engineering is everywhere you go, from the road we drive on to the phones we hold in our hands every day,” she said. “Ultimately I’d love to work for a construction company that builds bridges and enhances roadways, improving transportation methods and environmental problems.”
Another activity Perez holds dear is volunteering through the Pasadena Rotary Interact Club. Through this organization she was able to help feed over 900 people at the CT Church Food Fair.
“I never realized how many local people don’t have food to eat and depend on others to help them,” she said. “Since volunteering there I’ve been donating many things such as clothes, shoes and food. Community service has impacted the way I think and helped me make wiser decisions.”
In addition to academics and volunteering, Perez is inspired by music. She has been playing the violin for the last eight years.
“It’s amazing how with only one instrument, you can create a thousand expressions without words,” she said. “Music is a universal language that has become part of me.”
Language is something that Perez knows a lot about. She had to overcome shyness and a fear of speaking in public to achieve her goals.
“Communication was a challenge for me when I entered high school,” she said. “As a native Spanish speaker I was scared people were going to laugh at my accent or make fun of me if I didn’t know what to say. But as soon as I began to open up and express my ideas, my thoughts became words, and my words became actions and I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Joining clubs and organizations helped Perez get past her fears and opened her up to a world of opportunities.
“For anyone who is too timid to speak up, I would suggest you rip that fear away,” she said. “Just take a deep breath and open up. Communication with others can change your life.”
This year, Perez will become one of the first graduates of Pasadena ISD’s Dual Language program, started in 2005. This program allows native English speakers to learn Spanish and native Spanish speakers to learn English, ultimately becoming fully biliterate, bicultural and bilingual.
“I started the Dual Language program when I was in first grade,” Perez said. “I have successfully completed all the requirements, and I’m proud to be in the first group of dual language graduates.”
As a senior, Yahaira reflected on the meaningful relationships she has forged as a student.
“I will always remember the special moments and laughs with my family and friends,” Perez said. “The bonds I have created with them are unique and unlike any other. Their advice and influence have made a positive impact on my life and my experience wouldn’t have been the same without them.”