Nicolas San Miguel’s passion for space comes from his father, who once dreamed of becoming an astronaut and spent many evenings describing space explorations to his son, outlining the stories that the moon and different constellations lay out in the sky.
It was those stories that propelled San Miguel through to his final year studying aerospace engineering, with a research focus on satellite mechanics, at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. That wasn’t the only way his father influenced his life path.
When he was young, San Miguel said he often mispronounced words he learned to speak through his deaf father, which led to bullying and a feeling of otherness at school—compounded by his bi-cultural heritage and efforts to celebrate his Hispanic roots while trying to assimilate to his American surroundings.
Communication became an insecurity and a weakness of his—but not at home, where he used sign language to communicate with his dad.
He came face-to-face with the power of discrimination yet again when he encountered police tackling his father from behind, in his own backyard, drawing their weapons when he didn’t hear or respond to their inquiry about a neighboring house alarm.
“The world is mucky and pitted, but I learned not to listen,” San Miguel wrote in his scholarship application. Instead, he looked for better causes to hold his attention. He volunteered at a camp with kids for disabilities, taught English courses at night school, and worked at after-school programs designed for Hispanic children. In college, he continued that work, also volunteering at different “makerspace” programs to encourage enthusiasm in engineering and space design.
That drive to create a better world has continued professionally and academically as well. He developed his own hot sauce company, Fahrenheit 406, and took part as a student researcher in two university projects. He also completed internships at Sandia National Laboratories and the Space Propulsion Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A professor ranked San Miguel as one of her top four students in 25 years of teaching, noting his ability to excel within some of the university’s toughest courses by taking on the work with careful consideration and thought, rather than just memorization.
“Most importantly, in my opinion, is that he uses this intuitive grasp not only for his own intellectual advancement, but he also helps other students who are struggling with the concepts,” the professor wrote in a letter of recommendation.
The Millie Brother CODA Scholarship reduces the burden of higher education expenses for San Miguel’s family at a time when it is needed most. His father lost his job soon after a bladder cancer diagnosis a few years ago and has struggled to secure full-time work since. His mother’s small business was impacted by manufacturing loss, tariffs, and international product quarantines due to COVID-19, further reducing the family’s income as they also prepare to send two other children off to college within the next two years.
San Miguel said he works part-time on top of his volunteer and internship activities to offset the cost of college.
“My father instilled in me that while sometimes cards are dealt poorly and unequally, education is paramount to overcoming,” he wrote.
“While I am able to hear how clamorous the world has become, I—just like my father—still look at the night sky and imagine just how liberating it would feel to explore the deafening silence of space.”