Words of Wisdom from Women in STEM: Meet Diana Trujillo of NASA/JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory

A Day in Space will be an excellent opportunity to talk with real engineers, rocket scientists and researchers and find out more about how they made it. We’re proud to include several women in the field, many of whom are first-generation Latinas. We spoke to a few to gain some insight on their background and what mindset has helped them succeed as a woman in the space or STEM industry.

Diana Trujillo was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, and as a young Latina she imagined exploring and traveling through space. At the age of seventeen, just one day after graduating from high school in Colombia, Diana immigrated to the United States to pursue her dream of one day working for NASA. She enrolled in English as a Second Language courses, worked three jobs as a housekeeper and supported her own full-time studies.

Since 2008, she has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, contributing to both human and robotic space missions. Currently, she is Deputy Project System Engineer and Deputy Team Chief of the Engineering division of Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), NASA’s largest and most advanced Mars rover. She is responsible for ensuring that Curiosity’s day-to-day plan meets the team’s science objectives while maintaining rover health and safety.  Previously, she has also served as Surface Sampling System Activity Lead, Dust Removal Tool Lead Systems Engineer, Flight Ground Systems Engineer, and Vehicle System Testbed Mars Surface Lead.

Diana is very passionate about sharing her story to inspire students to follow their passion. As a woman working in a predominately male industry, Diana shared three great tips:

  1. Celebrate that you are a woman! Sometimes we begin to think that since we work in technology, which is dominated by males, we start adjusting to how men think and react. Love yourself and recognize that you being there as a woman adds value! Don’t pretend to be one of the guys.
  2. Realize that you belong there. Don’t overcompensate and be proud of the fact that you belong in that room because of your hard work and dedication.
  3. Don’t separate your feelings from what is happening. One of the most valuable things we woman bring to the table is we tend to not compartmentalize what we feel, what we do and even the past experiences that shaped who we are. Apply the “whole you” because that also adds value. In the beginning of my career I wasn’t ashamed that I cleaned houses earlier in my life, but I wasn’t exactly proud. I didn’t want anyone to know because I didn’t want anyone to think I was less than him or her. But I realized that my earlier years were about survival. If you gave me a scrap, I made it work. That ability of thinking that I’m not going to give up and I’m going to work with what I have because I don’t have anything else really shaped how I think. I’ve carried that mentality to my workplace. If something isn’t working, I don’t start over from scratch—I think: “let’s work with what we have and make it work.”

Diana will share more of her story during the morning plenary session with NASA astronauts José Hernández and Mark Kelly, as well as Will Pomerantz, the Vice President for Special Projects at Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.


My Solar Movement

By Armando Godoy-Velasquez

My hometown of Pico Rivera is located on the southeast side of Los Angeles where solar panels are not very popular. Many residents seem reluctant to accept solar panels, mostly because they have misconceptions about solar modules causing more damage versus saving money while protecting the environment. My efforts in spreading solar awareness lead me to many road blocks and hectic arguments because I was not well-informed on the topic. I decided that I could better explain to those who oppose it how much more productive solar panels are as a method of energy production if I learned more about it.

Monday through Thursday for five continuous weeks, I traveled by bus for an hour and a half to attend the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Academy at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. I participated in the Environmental and Building Sciences field where I took two courses on solar electricity. I learned the fundamentals of how solar modules worked and gained hands-on experience. Assembling a charging station for phones gave me a sense of innovativeness, even though I had really not created something new. With a few guest speakers from Solar City, the biggest solar company in the U.S, I found a new sense of responsibility to spread the knowledge I had gained into my community.

Every Tuesday in the summer after my STEAM Academy courses, I rushed over to El Rancho High School by bus to attend G1DPR’s Be A Leader Senior Boot Camp meetings. Alma Renteria, the Be A Leader project manager at the time, was aware of my involvement in the STEAM Academy. While covering essay topics at a meeting, Alma encouraged me to create a proposal for Jacki Cisneros for a sponsorship to bring the “green initiative” to Pico Rivera. My proposal highlighted how the lack of exposure to solar energy within our community inspired me to create an after school program for middle school students in Pico Rivera to give them the same experience I had in the STEAM Academy. With the help of Jacki Cisneros from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, I was able start a series of monthly solar workshops at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School. I realized that I could “kill 2 birds with one stone” by spreading solar awareness as I had originally planned, while also planting seeds in our future generation of movers and shakers. Using all the material I learned during my own time at the STEAM Academy, I created small, unit-based projects that would provide students exposure to solar energy. I, along with my LA Trade Tech professor, show students in the program how to wire panels together, connect them to appliances and power other items using solar energy.

While I know there is still a long way to go, being able to spark conversations about solar energy and its importance within my community feels like a start to something exciting. Our communities deserve the best, and I want to ensure that as a whole, we continue to create awareness about the damages of pollution and the importance behind solar energy.

Armando’s Solar Workshops take place once a month at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School, from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. Class is limited to 20 students on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, contact mandov029@gmail.com or Mr. Parra in room 4.



Our 5th Annual Kindergarten Book Giveaway: Paving the Way to College!

More than 800 Pico Rivera kindergartners will receive 10 new books for their own home literacy library! We are teaming up with the El Rancho Unified School District for the 5th year to help local early readers start their very own literacy library to foster reading proficiency and comprehension.  At each elementary school in the district and at two local private schools, Jacki Cisneros, president and co-founder of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, along with school officials, will distribute bags of books for kindergarten students at several school assemblies next week.

Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera recognizes that the pathway to college starts in kindergarten. To support its mission of achieving one college degree in every Pico Rivera home, G1DPR will donate 10 brand new books to approximately 800 kindergarten students living in Pico Rivera.

“This event has a more significant meaning that extends beyond receiving books,” says Jacki Cisneros. “It gives us an opportunity to highlight how important it is for children to maintain, and hopefully surpass, their required reading level by third grade. This milestone is a huge benchmark as research shows that students who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. And if poverty is a factor, then studies show a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.*

The goal of the book giveaway is to improve literacy and comprehension skills, which ultimately increase each child’s chances of achieving a higher education in the future.

*American Educational Research Association, 2011

Monday, October 24

@ 8:45am: Birney Elementary, 8501 Orange Ave., Pico Rivera 90660

@10:00am: Magee Elementary, 8200 Serapis Ave., Pico Rivera 90660

Tuesday, October 25

@ 8:45am: Rivera Elementary, 7250 Citronell Ave., Pico Rivera, 90660

@10:00am: Valencia Elementary, 9241 East Cosgrove St., Pico Rivera 90660

Wednesday, October 26

@ 8:45am: Rio Vista Elementary, 8809 Coffman-Pico Rd., Pico Rivera 90660

@10:00am: South Ranchito Elementary, 5241 South Passons Blvd. Pico Rivera, 90660

Thursday, October 28

@ 8:45am: North Ranchito Elementary, 8837 East Olympic Blvd. Pico Rivera, 90660

@ 10:00am: Durfee Elementary, 4220 South Durfee Ave., Pico Rivera, 90660