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Hanks Knights celebrate Homecoming in the Kingdom

Photo of Tapia twins Congratulations to the 2019 Honored Exes, Alma Stephanie Tapia and Susana Tapia-Harper, from the class of 1999!

Identical twins, Susana Tapia-Harper and Alma Stephanie Tapia, were born to Argentinian and Colombian first generation immigrants (Marcelo and Virginia Tapia) in El Paso, Texas. Their parents had a passion for asking questions as well as the perseverance needed to make it in a new country. At Hanks High School, the young girls applied this passion and perseverance to exploring opportunities through track, marching band, orchestra, and science clubs. Every experience taught them to work hard and to have fun while doing it.

Great teachers like Mr. Romero, Mr. Masterson, and Mr. Burrows at Hanks High School encouraged the girls to take advanced chemistry classes and physics and to later pursue engineering in college, which they had originally not thought they were cut out for. At Hanks, Susana and Stephanie joined the chemical Olympics and helped instate the first Hanks Avogadro’s day parade where the twins dressed up as a diatomic molecule!

The science seed had been planted and Susana decided to try Chemical Engineering at the New Mexico State University. Alma Stephanie received a full academic scholarship to attend The University of Texas at El Paso and study Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. While going to school, Susana worked in genetics labs creating drought tolerant plants and in chemistry labs producing Insulin for diabetics not to mention having a blast on the universities competitive ballroom dancing team. She had the opportunity to work at internships at Dow Chemical and making fancy paints at General Motors while getting to travel. Alma Stephanie Tapia also worked in research laboratories throughout college and at companies like general electric. A great honor was to graduate as one of UTEPs’ ‘Top Ten Seniors’ in 2003. The same lessons they learned in high school applied here; get involved, work hard, and have fun doing it!

After finishing her degree in Chemical Engineering at NMSU, Susana landed her dream job at NASA. A year later her twin sister Alma Stephanie Tapia finished her master’s degree at the University of Florida and joined the NASA ranks as well. The “Tapia twins” (as they were known in high school) now work together at NASA where Susana generates test data that Alma Stephanie applies to designing space suits and space vehicles. 

When NASA was first trying to go to the moon, they had a fire in the Apollo 1 capsule, tragically killing 3 astronauts and teaching NASA how important controlling flammability was. Susana now leads exciting oxygen flammability testing that helps NASA prevent fires in space. She burns and blows things up on the ground so she can teach others how not to. She shares this knowledge with the world helping to make sure babies in hospitals, patients in ambulances, and grandparents at home can use oxygen safely. Susana also leads NASAs offgas toxicity lab to ensure that astronauts are provided with clean and safe air to breathe when in space.

Alma Stephanie leads space suit and inflatable structure design as well as being the deputy manager for the International Space Station Materials & Processes. Understanding material design and failure modes aids in the development and safe operation of vehicles that allow NASA to successfully expand human knowledge of the atmosphere and space.

Both twins are active with women, minority, and student outreach including Technolochicas where they encourage young Latinas to pursue careers in STEM (you can find their technolochicas video on youtube). Alma Stephanie Tapia was recognized at the White House by the President for her leadership as part of the NASA Hispanic Engagement Campaign in 2015. Susana and Alma-Stephanie both love working on such exciting, fun, and collaborative projects at NASA. We welcome you to join us, Aqui te esperamos!

Click here for a list of Homecoming activities.