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  • Ivan Martinez

Into the Intergalactic STEAM-verse: An Interview with José Morey

Accomplished scientist and CEO José Morey has worked as an advisor to NASA, Forbes, MIT and the White House Office of Science and Technology. And yet, he’ll tell you it’s the media company he heads and founded, Ad Astra Media, that he’s most proud of. As Ad Astra Media’s website states, their mission is to “inspire underrepresented communities and minority groups to pursue S.T.E.A.M. careers. Ad Astra Media was formed to combine education and entertainment to better connect with kids to show them a diverse representation in S.T.E.A.M. professions, and to have role models for which they can aspire.”

 

I was fortunate enough to sit and talk with him about Ad Astra Media, the work he’s doing, and what that work means to him—and everyday people like us.


I'm very excited to talk with you José. Your impressive and extensive resume includes titles like “Chief Engineering Council” and “Medical Technology and Artificial Intelligence Advisor” They scream science, technology, engineering, and math. Yet, your work with Ad Astra Media emphasizes the arts just as much if not more than the science and technology. Can you tell me about that?

I've been a scientist my whole career. I went to med school and then after that I studied computational neural networks—a realm of artificial intelligence. Whether medicine or AI, my career’s been heavy deep tech, opening opportunities to work with NASA as a consultant. With NASA, I worked on all sorts cutting edge physics, from trying to figure out how to use Martian regolith as the foundation for 3D printing on Mars to new types of propulsions with ion thrusters.



Science and tech’s my training and background but I believe that you can't create anything without the arts. The arts and science together are the core of innovation, creating brand new industries like, for instance, the iPhone. Science and tech need human aesthetics. That’s how science and tech disrupt the industry to engage and innovate.

Science and tech’s my training and background but I believe that you can't create anything without the arts.

Ad Astra’s goal is to inspire kids from underserved communities to go into science and technology. The way you do that is through media and the arts, one of the primary ways that kids engage with and understand the world. It’s through media and arts that kids can see how new ways of fitting into and transforming the world.


The arts are the most powerful tool to reach the hearts and minds of children—of all of us. If we want children to really see themselves as scientists or as technologists——especially from Latino communities or from other underserved communities—then we must utilize the tool that they're most engaged with media.


To put this otherwise, the use of art and media is a great way to make science look cool. I'm from Puerto Rico. If you ask kids from Puerto Rico, who do they want to be, they usually respond with a baseball or basketball player or Bad Bunny. And no shade to Benito. I love Benito. He's done so much for our community—not just Puerto Ricans, but Latinos as a whole—but realistically it's a lot easier to make a thousand nurses than it is to make a thousand LeBron James or a thousand Bad Bunnies.


The U.S. has been pushing kids towards STEM for a while now. But Ad Astra pushes STEAM—STEM with the addition of the Arts. Might the opening of doors for kids to see themselves in STEM fields be more effective by more actively including the arts?

On a general level, to innovate and make science applicable to everyday life, you must include the arts in STEM. More specifically, to engage historically underrepresented kids in STEM fields we need to use the arts and media to showcase the wide spectrum of representation that makes up the U.S.


The US has been pushing kids in general to go into science and technology, but if you look at the numbers, the STEM workforce is still 80% white and 80% male. That's an issue. We have a million unfilled jobs. If you're going to create the most efficacious workforce that's going to compete at a global level, then realistically you can't fill the work gap, let alone fill the most innovative work gap, when 75% of your population is underrepresented within the industry. So, although there has been a push to get more kids into STEM, that message is not reaching kids of color, girls as well as neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ kids.

So, although there has been a push to get more kids into STEM, that message is not reaching kids of color, girls as well as neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ kids.

Representation matters. If you don’t see it, you can’t be it. Think about Netflix’s Queen's Gambit and how this led to a huge number of girls wanting to learn how to play chess. Ditto for Hunger Games and young girls taking up archery. And it doesn’t end with childhood. Think about Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut. She was inspired because she saw Uhura on Star Trek. Diversity of representation in the arts and media moves the needle forward.


We’re doing this project in Valle de Bravo—a mountainous rural region of Mexico. There’s no internet nor electricity for kids there. We partnered with the non-profit, Fundación El Árbol, to get into the hands of the kids our Intergalactic Academy comics that feature Latino professors and scientists.



They see a young mexicana who's learning about science and technology. All these kids now want to go to med school to become doctors and space school to become astronauts—and all because of a comic book.


Your Intergalactic Academy comic is available in print and online—and bilingual.

Whether it's comics or books, any of Ad Astra’s intellectual property is in Spanish and English. We want to be as expansive as possible, so we are also starting to translate some of our youth books into Dari and Pashto—the two most spoken dialects in Afghanistan; we do a lot of work with Afghan refugees that have come after the war. We also have a book that includes sign language because the main character, a veterinarian with a cochlear implant, is non-hearing. He uses sign language to communicate with the animals.


Ad Astra is a for-profit social impact company. We are Profit Plus. I believe you can do well and do good at the same time. When we create content of our own, we want to reach as many kids from as many diverse backgrounds as we can, so we don’t want access to be a barrier. So, we do provide a lot of free content. Talent is ubiquitous but opportunity is not. So, making sure that we provide access to our content via the internet (Webtoons, for instance) and partnering with non-profits to be sure books get into the kid’s hands is part of our core vision.

Talent is ubiquitous but opportunity is not.

With Ad Astra’s books and media, you create in order to encourage historically underrepresented kids to see themselves less as consumers and more as creators.

We talk a lot about creators versus consumers A lot of people consume things, not a lot of people create things. When you create a piece of art, a comic, a cartoon, any world-building content that can touch one person or a thousand people, it can influence across many lifetimes. With Ad Astra, I want to help create a more equitable world.


With kids, creativity and empathy go hand in hand.

Kids are the best of us. Racism and misogyny, antisemitism, all the negativity that can consume kids over time is taught, derailing them from developing their inherent empathy. If we role model and teach the opposite of hate and destruction, then we create a space for the natural development of empathy, kindness, understanding—altruism.


Can you share how Ad Astra’s had an impact?  

Whether it's in Mexico, Virginia where I live, or other areas where we are doing work, I love seeing the actual impact that our projects have on the kids. I'm a big crier, so that's usually when I cry.


What comes next?

As with our show Space Racers, I want to make our IPs part of the mainstream in the US and globally. I want to create multiple worlds, multiple IPs, that can reach global audiences and have a global impact.



We’re working our way there. Next up we are launching our first live-action short film, Launch Fever. And we’re expanding into new storytelling media modes to create multiple IPs that will reach global audiences in new ways.


Clearly, Ad Astra’s changing lives, José.  Might you have any final words?

I challenge us all to go out and create the world that you want to see. The world as you believe the world should be, go out and make that world. We all have that power. We all have that creative spirit inside of us.


Don't forget that the universe is inside you. You came from stardust—the beginnings of the world. If you think that the universe is majestic and beautiful, magnificent, and awe-inspiring, remember that a piece of that is inside you. All your molecules came from that. You have that same energy that was at the very origins of our universe.

Don't forget that the universe is inside you.

Take that and use that to inspire yourself to go out, find your partners and allies, and create the universes that you want to see around you. This includes Ad Astra. Reach out to us. We will engage with everyone and anyone that we possibly can to make the world a better place.

Support diverse creatives and world-makers. Don't lose heart.



Thank you, José!

Thank you for taking the time to do this. We all play our part in the village. I'll play my role. You play your role. Together we will expand and grow the village together.

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