Colombian Girl Achieves Her American Dream

Arriving in America at just 17, with $300, a series of fortuitous events enabled her to become the NASA director for the Mars rover. That's perseverance!

Born in 1983, Diana Trujillo grew up with a love of science. When she was 17, her father offered to send her to live with an aunt in Miami, thinking that having a second language would be advantageous for his daughter. So, off she went.


Trujillo took a series of housekeeping and cleaning jobs to put herself through Miami Dade College. In addition to learning English, she studied aerospace engineering. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes she had to take six buses just to get to class.


“I saw everything coming my way as an opportunity,” Diana told 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… ’”


Then came another serendipitous moment. One of her professors casually mentioned he knew an astronaut. Realizing she was “just one person away from knowing an astronaut” was all it took to galvanize Diana’s career goals.


Trujillo continued with her studies and became the first Hispanic woman to be admitted to the NASA Academy. She did so well that she was one of only two students to receive a job offer.


While at the NASA Academy, she was introduced to robotics expert Brian Roberts. Recognizing her potential, he invited Trujillo to join his NASA space robotics research team at the University of Maryland, where she went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2007.


Later that year, she became a team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since then, Trujillo has worn many hats at America’s space agency, including Mission Lead for the Curiosity Rover in 2014 - for which she got the nod as one of the 20 most influential Latinos in the Technology Industry.


Diana hasn’t stopped there. This February, when the Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars, it was accompanied by commentary from Trujillo in what became NASA’s first-ever Spanish-language transmission. She followed up that coup by hosting the agency’s first-ever Spanish language broadcast, Juntos perseveramos (Together we Persevere) on YouTube.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trujillo has won numerous awards in her field, most recently, the Congress of Colombia’s order of merit Policarpa Salavarrieta.

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