“It was just like an ordinary night in our local park when I went stargazing. It was a full moon and I was staring at the sky for a good hour when I was like, “Ok, I want to be an astronaut.”
When it comes to life, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa student Lean Teodoro, from Saipan, is no stranger to reaching for the stars. As a research fellow at NASA Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium with a multitude of internships from NIH, Northern Marianas College, and University of California, San Diego, four major scholarships and awards under her belt, and a future that is looking brighter than the sun, Lean proves that, against all odds, that the sky really is the limit.
“I remember back in middle school thinking that working for NASA was such a far-fetched dream. When you’re a person who lives in an underprivileged area, let alone a woman, most of the time, you usually lower your standards to fit the boundaries within your environment. Advancing STEM was far from the concerns of our community. I would tell my friends and my family of how much I wanted to work for NASA someday and they would laugh or say how I set impossible goals for myself. I admit, I laughed at myself for having such aspirations too, which eventually led me to lower my career standards.” Lean said.
It wasn’t, however, until she went beyond her comfort zone that she realized life isn’t so limiting after all.
“I felt so intrigued by how little we are. We are literally a tiny spec and right in front of me, is the entire universe.”
Conquering her limitations, Lean began her education through community college. As a first generation college attendee from a low-income family, this was no easy feat. However, being the go-getter she is, she quickly swept up new opportunities, giving her the chance to travel to Washington DC for a research symposium. “It was in that week that made a huge impact on my career path, that I realized my love for medicine.”
Since then, Lean has been doing research under the STEP-UP program. Last summer, she was able to combine both her passions for medicine and space as a space physiology researcher at UC San Diego.
Reaching for new heights
Lean soon decided to leave home, transferring to UH Mānoa as a Geophysics major with a Pre-Medicine track. “Many people give me this puzzled look because these two are very different” Lean laughs. “However, what I plan to do in the future is use the knowledge and skills I’ve gained throughout my undergraduate career by combining both Geo-Sciences and Health to provide possible contributions to future space explorations.”
“I truly believe in the power of understanding the geology behind, for example: Mars, to better understand how we can live there in the future and learn about the health of a human and how they can adapt to extreme environments. Basically, I want to be a Geo-doctor.”
From there, Lean worked hard to network with her school’s faculty and professors. She explained to them her deep love for both space and medicine. In return, she was provided with a multitude of internships and opportunities. “Luckily enough, I was able to land two internships during the second semester of my first year at UH”.
During her second semester at UH, Lean was chosen as a space-grant fellow under the NASA Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium to do research on extraterrestrial dust particles and analyze their chemical compositions in order to help scientists gain understanding on the birth of our solar system.
Where to next?
In the Summer, Lean will be working in Thailand for the research program, MHIRT. She will be testing biological theories on gender identities using MRI techniques. An exciting new step in the right direction.
As for conquering life’s roadblocks, Lean is no stranger to taking a leap of faith and seeking life without barriers.
“The only thing that lies between you and your goals in life is your mindset. Afraid to leave home? Afraid to leave family? Or afraid to leave your comfort zone? Everyone is afraid. I was afraid. Was. But I’m here to tell you, and also hope to inspire you, that if you just go out there and do what you gotta do to fulfill what you have always wanted to, life will treat you with many beautiful things you have never imagined possible” Said Lean.
“If it wasn’t for letting go of my fear of leaving my family and friends behind and just pushing onward towards my goals, I wouldn’t have had the chance to travel to so many places, I wouldn’t have networked with empowering and inspiring people, I wouldn’t have this fire inside me to fulfill my dreams as a woman and minority in STEM, but above all, I wouldn’t have known that “Yes, I could aspire or dream to be anything I want to be.”
Like her effervescent ability to conquer her goals full swing, Lean’s future is glowing brightly in the face of adversity. Lean is a beacon to be reckoned with. She reminds others that it’s not about how the mountain of your dream seems, it’s about how you climb it.
“That night, a new passion for space was planted in me. And from then on, I still have that ‘fire’ inside me that’s just so hard to explain. I hope that someday I will get a chance to go on the ultimate adventure: traveling to outer space.”