Article - Juanita Banda

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This article is an excerpt reproduced from the February/March 2009 issue of Diversity Careers magazine.

Hispanic Techies Find Rewarding Careers in Government Work


Juanita Banda works on NRAO's international team


In the international world of astronomy, scientists and engineers from North America, Europe and Japan are still several years away from completing the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). When this massive, sixty-six antenna instrument is completed in the clear air of the Chilean Andes, its high-precision antennas will combine to offer the highest quality radio telescope images ever attained.

Juanita Banda is an EE with the back-end photonics group at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, Charlottesville, VA). Her group is working on the timing and reference signal for the ALMA antennas. “We generate a common signal to all the antennas,” she explains. “We are developing the first local oscillator and the distribution to the sixty-six antennas, as well as the line-length correction system.”

Banda, a first-generation Mexican American, has a 2001 BSEE from the University of Arizona. She began her career at NRAO’s Tucson, AZ location through a student co-op. “I thought I would move to another job in the private sector, but I never got around to it,” she says with a laugh.

She finds that working for NRAO has benefits like a relaxed dress code and schedule. More important, “You also have the freedom to explore new ideas and different plans.”

Scientists and engineers from the ALMA site in Chile are frequently sent to work with Banda’s team. Her complete bilingualism is a big help; she can make the Chilean team members more comfortable and translate complex concepts for them.

She enjoys this camaraderie. “Before the Chileans arrived I was one of just a few Hispanic employees in Tucson. Now we work with several Chileans and that’s been great.”

Roy Norville, NRAO employment manager, notes that “Not only does Juanita relate well to our Chilean ALMA employees and visitors, but she is a super recruiter. Since joining the observatory she has recruited students and professionals at various EE conferences. Her enthusiasm for the field is quite contagious!”

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