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She came to the US with only $300. Now, she's a NASA Director for the Mars Rover.

Diana Trujillo from Colombia was responsible for launching the Mars Perseverance Rover and is breaking barriers for women of color in STEM.

She came to the US with only $300. Now, she's a NASA Director for the Mars Rover.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Meet Diana Trujillo, an aerospace engineer who currently leads a 45-person team at the NASA laboratory responsible for the robotic arm of the latest Mars rover. She didn't have the rosiest journey. As a young girl growing up in Colombia during the 1980s, a career in science seemed like a far-fetched dream. Nonetheless, she has persevered through several challenges, finally making her dream a reality. Trujillo first moved to the United States with $300 to her name and an unrelenting passion for science. This is how she rose through the ranks in a field dominated by White men, Good News Network reports.


She was born in 1983 and was certain that she wished to pursue a career in science. When her dad offered to send her to live with her aunt in Miami, Florida, believing that knowing a second language would advance her career prospects. Although she was only 17 years old at the time, she took him up on his offer and moved to the United States with $300. Soon, she took up a series of housekeeping jobs in order to put herself through Miami Dade College, where she studied Aerospace Engineering in addition to English.


The journey was definitely not easy for Trujillo. Some days, she would have to take six different buses to get to class. Despite all this, she never complained about her challenges. "I saw everything coming my way as an opportunity," she explained in an interview with CBS News. "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 a bathroom right now.’ It was just more like, ‘I’m glad that I have a job and I can buy food and have a house to sleep [in]."


Then, one of Trujillo's professors at college casually mentioned that they were acquaintances with an astronaut. This made her realize she was "just one person away from knowing an astronaut," galvanizing her career goals. She continued her studies and was eventually admitted to the NASA Academy, making her the first Hispanic woman to be admitted. During her time there, she met robots expert Brian Roberts, who invited her to join his NASA space robotics research team at the University of Maryland (this is where she ultimately earned her Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2007). Trujillo performed so well that she was one of only two students to receive a job offer from the prestigious institution. She went on to become a team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


At NASA, Trujillo has worn many hats, such as Mission Lead for the Curiosity Rover in 2014. For this role, she was named one of the 20 most influential Latinos in the Technology Industry. Furthermore, in February this year when the Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars, it was accompanied by commentary from her. This became NASA’s first-ever Spanish-language transmission. Following this, she hosted NASA's first-ever Spanish language broadcast, Juntos perseveramos (Together we Persevere). While she has won several awards, her most recent win is the Congress of Colombia’s order of merit Policarpa Salavarrieta. Now, Trujillo continues to break barriers for women of color in STEM and encouraged women from marginalized backgrounds to pursue their dreams in this field, no matter how daunting it may seem.


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