ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Channel 9 is spotlighting a woman who is living the “American Dream” right here in central Florida.
“This country has given me everything,” said Clara Rivero-Baleine, a research scientist at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “You know, I’m really living the American dream.”
When she was 16, Rivero-Baleine fled Cuba with her mom and younger brother, hoping for a better life in the U.S.
“My grandfather was actually a refugee and fought against Fidel (Castro) at the beginning of the revolution. He was given political asylum for (himself) and the family members that live in his household.”
The family settled in Orlando, and while it was difficult at first, Rivero-Baleine was dedicated.
“I was eager to learn,” she said. “So, after school, I would put all my stuff on the floor and actually turn on the TV and watch “Friends,” and that’s how I learned English.”
Rivero-Baleine attended Boone High School and in just two years, she went from not knowing any English to graduating as valedictorian in her class.
“I did not know what that meant,” she said. “I went to my ESOL teacher and I said ‘what does valedictorian mean?’ And she just started screaming, saying ‘Oh, congratulations!’”
Rivero-Baleine studied at the University of Central Florida and in France. She received two doctorate degrees in optics and materials science and eventually started at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control more than 15 years ago.
Rivero-Baleine said the company’s core values align with her Hispanic heritage.
“Do what’s right, respect others and perform with excellence — those are the same values that got passed down to me from my mother,” she said.
Rivero-Baleine works with high-powered lenses in her job, which she said is very rewarding.
“Having the opportunity to work on things that are important to the country, protecting our military men and women, that is very important to me,” Rivero-Baleine said.
Now, life has come full circle for Rivero-Baleine, who also mentors UCF students to develop a pipeline of future talent.
“The work that I’m doing, I do it because I care,” she said. “But I do it to be an inspiration to the next generation as well.”
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