By TOM GANNON
As a young girl admiring the stars from her small rural home of Gilcrest, Colorado, Celene Benavente never thought one day she might have the opportunity to join them, now after receiving the Graeme Edwards Memorial Scholarship at Federation University, she’s one step closer to achieving her space dream.
Ms Benavente, 27, moved to Churchill from the US in 2015 and is currently a first year mechatronics systems engineering student at Federation Uni, a course which focuses on combining electrical, mechanical and software engineering.
Last month Ms Benavente was awarded the Graeme Edwards Memorial Scholarship, named in honour of Graeme Edwards who tragically lost his life in a work related incident at Yallourn Power Station in 2018.
The scholarship, which represents Graeme’s long held and firm commitment to safety, fairness, and selfless concern for his peers is something Ms Benavente said she is honoured to receive.
“I was very honoured to receive this in honour of Graeme Edwards and his foundation,” she said.
“The difference this scholarship has made has been tremendous, it’s essentially helped pay for me to be able to study full time, something that I wouldn’t have been able to do if it wasn’t for something like this, it makes the world of difference.
“Being able to actually believe I can be an engineer and really focus and not having to worry about other things makes a whole lot of difference.”
However, Ms Benavente isn’t resting on her laurels, instead she’s set her sights about as high as they can go.
“I’m looking to peruse my PHD and I’m working towards becoming an astronaut,” she said.
“I think with Australia now establishing a mission control centre we’re going to soon be sending astronauts from here, so I want to be prepared to be a front runner when that does happen.”
Since moving to Gippsland, Ms Benavente has been recruited by the Melbourne Space Program and is in regular talks with former NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez.
“I think for me, having someone of that calibre tell me ‘yes you can do it’ and becoming a close mentor to me has given me the confidence that if I do stay focused and I peruse my education in a pursuit to get better and improve then it is something I can achieve,” she said.
Ms Benavente’s achievements and aspirations are even more notable considering the challenges she’s faced along the way.
“Coming from a Mexican background it isn’t something my family would necessarily see as something I could go towards, which is something quite common in the Mexican community,” she said.
“Where I come from I’m considered at risk because I come from a very low economic background, but I refuse to believe that and I know I can fight against the odds because I’m here, it’s just incredible and I’m going to keep pushing forwards.”
Despite preparing to enter an almost impossible job field in which the chances of making it to space are slim to none, Ms Benavente remains positive and even has advice for others trying to achieve their unlikely goal.
“You can do it, absolutely you can do it,” she said.
“I think at the end of the day it’s up to me to make that happen as it is to you, and I think if you want to do it don’t let anything stop you,
“The world is full of a lot of people who will say ‘how dare you dream’, I think people want to do amazing things but they get too scared but you need to move forward from that and really believe that you can.”