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Posted on Jun 17, 2017

Quincy grad heads to the ‘Harvard of the Sky’

Being a trailblazer is rarely easy. Being a trailblazer three times over is harder still. And yet Dayanara Benicio remains undaunted.
The Quincy grad, class of 2017, has been accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a world-renowned university that specializes in aviation and aerospace. As a Latino woman and the first person in her family with a chance to finish college (she’s the oldest of five sisters) she knows the road ahead will be difficult.
Benicio, whose name is pronounced Dye-un-UH-rah Ben-EE-see-oh, will attend ERAU’s Daytona campus in Florida. Many things made the long move across the continent attractive to her, like the desire to show her four younger siblings college is an attainable goal, and only the first of many.
“I want to get an internship at NASA,” she said. “That’s been a dream since I was little.”
She wanted to be a mechanical engineer until she reached sixth grade. That’s when she learned more about space and she built her first rocket.
“It was like a project where all the sixth-graders at Monument (Elementary) get to do,” she said.
Children made fun of her rocket because it was small and purple with teddy-bear stickers, but it flew the farthest, she remembered.
Too far, as a matter of fact.
“It got stuck on the blue apartments across from Monument, and we didn’t get to retrieve it,” she said with a laugh.
Then as a junior, she attended a seminar called the Washington Aerospace Scholars, a dual program sponsored by the Museum of Flight and the University of Washington. In it, high school juniors earn college credits in aeronautics-related classes.
Benicio said she stood out as a Latino at WAS, which was mostly made up of Caucasian students. As an engineer, she wants to build things. As a Latino and a woman she wants to break things.
“Me being over there is going to break the cycle,” said Benicio referring to Embry-Riddle’s Florida campus. “Finishing high school or not finishing high school and heading to work in the fields, or how the women in my family all work in a factory.”
Instead, she said, she wants to be an example and the bearer of a message, “Do what you want to do,” and not settle for working in the fields.
At the same time, there are many women who work at NASA, but most of them are in the business side of things or the communications side
of things.
“Communications is not my forte; it’s more math and science,” she said.
From a feminist standpoint, she said, Benicio wants to help break those barriers for women and integrate more women in the male-dominated field of engineering.
Having so few women engineers makes it hard to find a role model. But to Benicio, that just provides extra motivation.
“I want to do it on my own,” she said. “I don’t want to do it because someone else did it.”
Still, getting accepted to the Florida school came as a surprise, thinking at first that someone was playing a joke on her. Now that she knows it’s not a joke, she said she fears getting homesick might drive her away from her goals.
Embry-Riddle wanted someone who was “in it to win it,” Benicio said, someone who wants to work hard and will not drop out. That suits Benicio fine. She wants to go to college, but what she really wants is to finish college.
“Since I have four younger siblings, I want them to be like, ‘Oh, hey, Daya went to college in Florida; it’s what she wanted to do, it’s been her dream and she actually did it,’” Benicio said. “’She reached her dreams, so we can do it, too.’”

By Sebastian Moraga,

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