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.