Diana Trujillo, 17 years old, moved to the USA from Cali, Colombia with $300 in her pocket to fulfill her dream of exploring the universe and exploring outer space.
A few decades later, Trujillo now works as an aerospace engineer for NASA, leading a team of 45 people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Her team developed the robotic arm for Perseverance Mars rover, which will collect rocks samples on Mars.
Trujillo knew that she wanted to be a scientist from a young time, but there were many obstacles in her path. As a Latina woman in a field dominated by males, she wasn’t sure how to advance her career.
Trujillo was 17 when her parents divorced and she packed her bags and moved to the US with $300. She was determined to succeed and took on every job that was offered.
The teen worked as a housekeeper to pay for her Miami Dade College education. There she also took English classes and enrolled into aerospace engineering courses.
Trujillo was sometimes forced to ride six buses to get her to school. She never complained. Despite having to clean bathrooms to pay her tuition, she never felt bitter.
“I saw everything coming my way as an opportunity,” Trujillo said. “I didn’t see it as, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this job at night,’ or ‘I can’t believe that I’m cleaning. I can’t believe that I’m cleaning a bathroom right now.’ It was just more like, ‘I’m glad that I have a job and I can buy food and and have a house to sleep.’ And so, I think that all of those things make me, and even today, helps me see life differently. I see it more as every instant I need to be present because every instance matters.”
Trujillo was a space pioneer because she wanted to prove her family wrong. She wanted the men in her family to recognize that “women add value.”
“It came from wanting to prove to them that we matter,” she said.
As a college student, however, this would change. Trujillo remembers being in line to choose her University of Florida major and not knowing what she wanted. She spotted a magazine with images of female astronauts and a spaceship, which she was able to show the dean.
She was inspired to choose aerospace engineering as her major after seeing that. Trujillo noticed there were few Hispanic students waiting in line with her. She was also one among the few women in the queue.
Similar themes were prevalent throughout her career. She would be one the few Latinas in science. As one of Perseverance’s surface flight directors, she is reminded that she represents more than her country, culture, heritage, or people. This awareness motivates her daily to do her best.
Hispanics are only 8% of STEM workforce. Hispanic females only represent 2%. Trujillo believes there’s only one way to break the glass ceiling—to have more role models in the field.
So, she decided to host NASA’s first-ever Spanish language broadcast for a planetary landing shown. The show, called “Juntos perseveramos,” which translates to “Together we persevere,” has garnered over 2.6 million views on YouTube since it streamed in February this year.
Trujillo understands that the more Latin scientists, engineers and scientists there are, the more kids will be motivated to pursue STEM careers. Families will be able to encourage their children to follow these steps instead of following the stereotypical roles that they are told to.
“The abuelas, the moms or dads, the uncles, los primos, like everyone has to see this,” Trujillo said. “And they have to see a woman in there, too. So, that they can turn around to the younger generation and say she can do it, you can do it.”
Trujillo hopes to one day fulfill her goal of reaching space, but for now, her mission is to encourage young people—especially women—to pursue careers in science and engineering.
Check out the video below to watch Diana Trujillo’s interview with The Drew Barrymore Show.
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