Faces of CNM: Grace Harris

Grace is chasing her dream of becoming an astrophysicist, and nothing is going to stop her
August 09, 2021

A couple weeks back, Grace Harris got a call from Lockheed Martin offering her a job. She was told they’d like her to come work as an Engineering Aid at White Sands Missile Range once she graduates with her associate degree in Physics from CNM.

When you ask Grace about the job offer, she gets emotional.

“I was ecstatic about the offer and I get emotional because when I was growing up, I would tell people that I wanted to go into science and maybe become an astrophysicist and I always got doubtful looks,” says Grace, who’s 23. “But I always stuck to what I wanted.”

Grace’s dream of working in astrophysics started back in 6th grade when her teacher Lesley Cordier introduced her to astronomy. She was excited about pursuing a college degree but ran into a roadblock during her junior year of high school. That year she had to drop out of school to care for her sick father.

Undeterred, she decided to get her GED at CNM. As soon as she stepped on campus she felt encouraged and welcomed, and after completing her GED, Grace enrolled at CNM as a college student. She’s working through her required classes and plans to graduate in May of 2023. Then it’s onto the Lockheed Martin job, which will be waiting. 

At CNM, Grace says she’s had an enormous amount of support. She has a learning disability and her instructors have always been helpful and accommodating. As a woman and Indigenous student (both her parents are from Canadian tribes), Grace says she’s always felt encouraged to pursue a science degree, even though there aren’t many people like her in that field. 

“Everyone at CNM has always been friendly and approachable, and that environment has helped me succeed,” she says.  

Grace is currently part of CNM’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society for community colleges, and this summer she’s also participating in CNM’s first annual STEM Summer Bridge Program. The program acts as a summer bridge opportunity that allows science, computer science and engineering majors to connect with CNM faculty and Sandia Lab engineers and scientists. It also helps students with everything from resume development to study skills to preparation for math courses. In the upcoming academic year, Grace will also be part of the first STEM Core Cohort, with the opportunity for internships with Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs in summer 2022.

Down the road, Grace says she might consider a higher degree. She’s excited to start her new job, but has also dreamt of getting her Ph.D. in astrophysics. 

For incoming students who might face similar challenges, or for those students who have run into doubters like she did, Grace has some straight forward but powerful advice. 

“Sometimes you just have to go for it and see what happens,” she says. “Always stand your ground and never waiver.” 

Students who are interested in learning more about the STEM Summer Bridge and STEM Core programs, please email plister@cnm.edu.