César Ocampo is a prominent Colombian scientist in the area of Astrodynamics, and has recently been appointed as the new director of COLCIENCIAS, the Colombian Department of Science, Technology, and Innovation. Ocampo was born in Armenia, Colombia and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was two years old. At the age of four, Ocampo knew he wanted to become an Aerospace Engineer when he watched the Apollo XVII launch on television. Following his dreams, he graduated from University of Kansas (1990), and earned his MS (1991) and Ph.D (1996) in Astrodynamics from University of Colorado. Ocampo has an extensive research and teaching trajectory. He was the Dean of Engineering and Exact Sciences at Universidad Sergio Arboleda, where he served as scientific director of the first Colombian satellite. He also worked as an Associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) where he led the development of COPERNICUS, a major software program used by NASA for the design and optimization of spacecraft journeys within the solar system. Moreover, Ocampo has experience as a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
In addition, to teaching and doing research, Ocampo is passionate about inspiring students from all cultural backgrounds to study aerospace engineering. During his time at UT-Austin, he received the Raymond F. Dawson Centennial Teaching Fellowship in Engineering, "this fellowship allowed me to inspire kindergarten through 12th grade students in the Austin area public schools and in schools, communities, and children's hospitals throughout the U.S., as well as a few other countries", writes Ocampo in his personal webpage within the UT-Austin website. He also has a strong and genuine commitment with Chocó, Colombia. He has traveled many times with the only purpose of inspiring kids from the region to pursue their dreams, and has supported several projects that aim to increase the quality of life of the region. Ocampo has met and inspired Bonnie Prado, a passionate engineer who is originally from Chocó, to pursue a career in the aerospace field. Bonnie was an undergraduate student in Electronics Engineering, but her real dream was to study space rockets. Now, Prado has a MS degree from UT-Austin and is currently a Ph.D student in Astrodynamics and Space Applications at Purdue University, "I feel extremely fortunate to have had Dr. Ocampo as a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, and also as a career mentor. He is a very committed scientist, and very passionate about extending his knowledge to places and people that otherwise would have probably never heard about the worldwide advances in the aerospace field" shares Prado.
In 2015, the Colombian Student Association at Purdue (CSAP) hosted, the academic event: "PROGRESO: Research Contributions from Latin America, Spotlight: Colombia", and had the great fortune of having Dr. César Ocampo as keynote speaker. PROGRESO, with over 100 participants from multiple states, was a forum to feature ongoing research that Latin Americans in the U.S. were conducting at that time, and to stimulate discussion on research projects related to Colombia. "His keynote presentation at PROGRESO was very inspiring. He shared with the audience a little bit of his professional career, and motivated Colombian students and researchers abroad to think about ways to give back to our country" explains Bonnie Prado with excitement, as she remembers their reunion. Former CSAP president and current PhD candidate, David Orrego, recalls Dr. Ocampo's outstanding participation in PROGRESO, and how skillful he was at communicating science to a diverse public: "having Dr. Ocampo as keynote speaker was an honor. I believe he will do an amazing job as Director of Colciencias, not only because of his kindness and humbleness, but because of his strength at communicating and conducting transformative science with passion and integrity". Similarly, Prado was thrilled by the news "I was very excited to hear that Dr. Ocampo had been appointed Director of COLCIENCIAS, as I am absolutely positive that he will do an amazing job at making sure that our country continues to advance in the sciences and technological arenas".
PROGRESO Organizing committee with Dr. César Ocampo. From left to right: Maria M. Patiño, Carolina Mira, Clara Vásquez-Mejía, David Orrego, Sylvia Bonilla, César Ocampo, Maria del Rosario Uribe, Laura Mosquera, and Stella Betancourt.