Woman Came To The U.S With Nothing But $300, Now She’s NASA’s Flight Director To Mars

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Flashback to the 1980s in Columbia where a little girl sat dreaming of her future. She felt it in her heart that she was meant for something big, still having no idea of what waited for her. She couldn’t even imagine that one day she would represent her heritage and work for NASA, chasing stars and traveling to faraway planets.

Flashforward to today and Diana Trujillo is living proof that no little girl is ever dreaming too big. Even though she came from no money, today she stands proudly as an aerospace engineer, here’s her story

Dreaming From A Young Age

little girl laying in bed with stars n her hair

Paige Cody / Unsplash

Paige Cody / Unsplash

Diana felt it in her heart from a young age that she was being called out to by the universe itself to explore it. While still growing up in Columbia she longed to understand it. This allowed her to dream big, as big as the universe itself, and created a fascination within her that would be her motivation and her drive her whole life long.

The more Diana grew up the more she felt certain that science would somehow be her path. However, she also quickly realized that this would not be an easy journey. Diana was already at a disadvantage for not only being a woman in a man dominated world but for also being Hispanic with little means.

Dreams Really Do Come True

American flag

Samuel Branch / Unsplash

Samuel Branch / Unsplash

Luckily for Diana, she had a supportive family who wanted to see her succeed despite their limited resources. Her dad suggested that she move to Miami to learn English and go to school there. As her biggest supporter, he wanted her to have the extra language and opportunities in America as an advantage. This is often the dream of many who see The U.S as a land of opportunities and a new beginning. They hope that by moving there, they can start a better life.

Still, as she listened to her dad talk about her dreams, she couldn’t fathom how far they would take her. That one day she would be leading a 45-person team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and that she would be responsible for the robotic arm of the latest Mars rover.

She Left Columbia With Just $300

plane wing view from window

Bailey Alexander / Unsplash

Bailey Alexander / Unsplash

Finally, when her parents were going through a divorce, Diana decided it was time to immigrate to the US to pursue her dream of a career in science. At the time she was only 17 years with $300 to her name. She was coming as a minority and understood well that the odds were stacked against her. Yet, she was determined to find success. She started wherever she could, taking jobs in housekeeping to pay her way through school at Miami Dade College. She stayed focused on her goals, enrolling herself in English and aerospace engineering courses.

Still, even with her optimism and strong work ethic, Diana was struggling. Not only was she in a whole new culture where she didn’t even know the language, but she had to take six buses just to get to class. She was juggling her education with the housekeeping jobs she needed to pay her way. But, she never complained.

Diana’s Perspective Worked Wonders

woman cleaning painting in green uniform

Alterfines / Pixabay Via Canva

Alterfines / Pixabay Via Canva

Diana’s most remarkable trait is her ability to see the best in everything. Her motivation was driven by hope even when she couldn’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. Her perspective is quite inspiring.

“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… ” Plus beyond her personal success, Diana wanted to be an inspiration for her people and all the other little girls who dreamed just like she once did in Columbia:

“I wanted my — especially the males of my own family — to recognize that women add value,” she said, “it came from wanting to prove to them that we matter.”

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Her Purpose Made Itself Clear To Her

DANA POINT, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Mars 2020 Arm Science Surface Phase Lead Diana Trujillo speaks onstage during The 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort on February 7, 2019 in Dana Point, California.

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS

Drive alone wasn’t enough, Diana also needed to have a specific purpose to guide her with intention. When she got to college, she remembers not knowing what to choose as her major. So, she reached out to her Dean. When she visited, she just happened to glance over at a magazine cover with female astronauts on it. That was the moment she knew in her heart that she wanted to be an aerospace engineering. This became her purpose.

When Diana looked around her school, she didn’t see many others girls who looked like her. But, now having a clear vision in mind, she didn’t mind setting new expectations. She explains: “I know I’m not walking in there alone, I’m walking in there and every single thing that I do, I’m representing my country, my culture, my heritage, my people, and I have to give my best every single time.”

Diana Defied The Odds When She Joined NASA

Diana Trujillo, Mars 2020 arm science surface phase lead at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, smiles during the 2019 Makers Conference in Dana Point, California, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. The event gathers industry leading females for roundtable discussions to help inspire the women of tomorrow.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After a couple of years of preserving through a major in space science, Diana’s professors started to notice her and her quick achievements, and they encouraged her to apply to the NASA Academy. The training program also recognized her capacity and welcomed her as the first Hispanic immigrant woman in the academy. Diana was already making her dreams come true but the blessings kept coming to her one after the other. Shortly after, NASA offered her a full-time job. Diana had beat the odds.

All her years of cleaning toilets just to get by were paying off. She was proudly representing her heritage despite Hispanics holding only 8% of the STEM workforce according to the Student Research Foundation, with Hispanic women only making 2%. She was becoming a role model.

Diana Quickly Climbed The Ladder

While studying at the NASA Academy, Diana never stopped impressing everyone around her. She caught the eye of robots expert Brian Roberts. He then asked her to join his NASA space robotics research department at the University of Maryland. This was where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and graduated in 2007. It was like the stars themselves were aligning Diana with her path directly, putting her in all the right places at the right time.

Keep in mind that with success comes responsibility: “by moving to the University of Maryland, I was a year behind in my career, but it was worth it because I managed to get into the NASA education department as the Academy’s operations manager,” she told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. But, Diana never stopped being a hard worker.

Later that year, she became a member of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the Constellation program. Now Diana worked her way to becoming the Flight Director for the Mars Rover at NASA. Her journey only takes her upwards, closer and closer to the stars.

Anyone Can Reach For The Stars

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 21: In this screengrab, Diana Trujillo participates in Hispanicize #LatinasRepresent Lifestyle Special Edition virtual event on April 21, 2021 onlin

NGL Collective / Contributor / Getty Images

NGL Collective / Contributor / Getty Images

Diana’s story is living proof that dreams can become a reality. The journey is more than just manifesting. Diana didn’t have a lot of money, she didn’t even speak the language but what she had was a purpose, intention and an outstanding work ethic. She worked hard to make her dreams come true and stayed focused on her vision. To you, she says: “The abuelas, the moms or dads, the uncles, los primos, like everyone has to see this,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.’”

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Higher Perspectives Author

Higher Perspectives Author is one of the authors writing for Higher Perspectives