For just a little girl growing up in Colombia in the 1980s, a science career with NASA may have seemed about as likely as setting foot on a faraway planet. Nowadays, however, Diana Trujillo is an aerospace engineer.

In fact, she leads a 45-person team at the NASA lab that’s responsible for the robotic arm of the latest Mars rover.

NASA/JPL-Caltech, illustration of the Perseverance rover landing

How did Diana go from simply dreaming about the cosmos to actually exploring it? That ’s a tale of perseverance that was, perhaps, written in the stars.

Born in 1983, even as a young woman Diana was certain of her enthusiasm for science. But she doubted how far she’d be able to rise in a male-dominated field. Fate stepped in when her dadthinking of having a second language might expand his brothers horizonsoffered to send her to live with an aunt in Miami.

Just 17 years old at the time, she took him up on it.

With just $300 to her name, Trujillo took a set of housekeeping jobs to put herself through Miami Dade College. Besides learning English, she studied aerospace engineering. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes she had to take six buses just to get to class. Other days she was cleaning bathrooms to help pay her way through her research. But she didn’t complain.

“I saw everything coming my way as a chance,” Diana told CBS News. I didnt see it I cant think mem doing this job at night, or I cant believe that Im cleaning a bathroom at this time. ’ It was just more like, ‘I’m thankful that I have a job and I will buy food and have a house to sleep… ’”

Then came another life-changing second for Trujillo. One of her professors casually mentioned they were really acquainted with an astronaut. Realizing she had been “just 1 person away from understanding an astronaut” was all it took to galvanize Diana’s career objectives.

Trujillo continued with her studies. Being the first Hispanic woman to be admitted into the NASA Academy, she did so well she had been one of only two students to receive a job offer from the prestigious institution.

A story of perseverance

While at the NASA Academy, she was introduced to robots expert Brian Roberts. Recognizing her potential, he invited Trujillo to combine 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, such as as Mission Lead for the Curiosity Rover in 2014— for which she got the nod among the 20 most influential Latinos in the Tech Industry.

A voice for everyone

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.

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She followed that coup by hosting the agency ’s first-ever Spanish language broadcast, Juntos perseveramos ( Together we Persevere), that has since gone on to rake in more than 2.5 million hits on YouTube.

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

motivates others to reach for the stars

Along with her ongoing scientific endeavors, Diana Trujillo continues her mission to lead by example, encouraging women from marginalized backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM fields.

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If it takes a rocket to shatter the glass ceiling, then so be it. Diana’s own story is proof that just beyond that barrier lies an whole universe of opportunities waiting for anyone willing to work hard enough to reach for the stars.

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