Diana Trujillo

By Emma Lopez

From Columbia to Mars, Diana Trujillo Pomerantz has paved the way for Hispanic and Latinx people of color in STEM. Since 2007, Trujillo has climbed the ranks and made a name for herself at NASA. Born on January 4, 1983, in Cali, Columbia, Trujillo showed an initial interest in the universe beyond our world. She found safety in looking up at the stars, despite the violence in her country. When Trujillo turned 12, her parents got divorced, and she was raised solely by her mother, who came from a lower socioeconomic background. Growing up, her mindset was simply that a woman’s place was to take care of the men in the household. Unfortunately, these expectations were engraved in Trujillo’s head and led her to believe that women should not be interested in STEM-oriented activities such as robots. Soon, the expectations hanging over her head drove her to reach for the stars, so Trujillo was determined to prove that–after three generations of women setting aside their dreams to tend to a home–women had value, regardless of the outlooks society had on gender.

Once Trujillo turned 17, she flew to Miami, Florida with merely $300 in her pocket. Despite having little money and limited English, Trujillo persevered. She was employed as a full-time housekeeper to pay for her studies at Miami Dade Community College. In reflection on her past, Trujillo stated that she, "I saw everything coming my way as an opportunity," she said, "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. 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.' And so, I think that all of those things make me, and even today, helps me see life differently. I see it more as every instant I need to be present because every instance matters." Furthermore, Trujillo was enrolled in an English as a Second Language course at Miami Dade, and then as time progressed, she transferred to the University of Maryland and then the University of Florida as an aerospace engineering major.

While she was in line to declare her major at the University of Florida, Trujillo was unsure of what she wanted to pursue, but when she reached the dean’s office, she turned to see magazines with female astronauts, space shuttles, and Earth. Then, she picked aerospace engineering as her major. In the queue, Trujillo noted that there was a lack of people who spoke Spanish or were Hispanic, and she was one of the only women there. During her senior year at the University of Florida, Trujillo applied to the NASA Academy at the Goddard Space Flight Center. She was one of the first Hispanic women to be accepted into the school and to join the Academy. Finally, in 2007, Trujillo landed her first job at NASA.

After Trujillo graduated with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Miami—with additional studies at the University of Maryland—she operated in the Cygnus International Space Station. There, she worked on the resupply vehicle, which transfers equipment, experiments, and supplies for the International Space Station. By 2008, Trujillo worked in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Then in 2009, she married her husband, Will Pomerantz. That same year, Trujillo operated as a Telecom Systems Engineer for the Mars Curiosity Rover, where she managed the communication between the Earth-bound NASA scientists and Curiosity, which landed successfully on Mars in 2012. Before the Perseverance mission, Trujillo also worked in Constellation programs at the JPL. Trujillo’s roles consisted of Flight Ground Systems, Vehicle System Testbed Mars Surface Lead Engineer, Deputy Project System Engineer, and Deputy Team Chief of Engineering for Curiosity before she was promoted to Mission Lead for the Mars Perseverance Rover in 2014.

During the Perseverance mission, Trujillo led a 45-person engineering team that constructed the robotic arm of Perseverance. This robotic arm was designed with a grip that collects samples on Mars to answer the question: Is there life on Mars? As a Flight Director, Trujillo successfully deployed the first helicopter Ingenuity on the surface of another planet (Mars). On February 18, 2021, Perseverance landed on Mars, and Trujillo hosted NASA’s first Spanish-language live broadcast of a planetary landing known as #JuntosPerseveramos, which translates to “together we persevere” in English. This historical event captivated audiences around the globe. Every Tuesday, Trujillo also provides English and Spanish updates on Perseverance through NASA’s Martes de Marte series.

In 2014, Trujillo was included in the 20 most influential Latinos in the Technology Industry. Later in 2017, she was awarded the 2017 Bruce Murray Award for Excellence in Education and Public Management, and that same year she was named one of “Los 22 Mas,” because she was one of the individuals who best represented Columbia. In March of 2021, Trujillo was granted the highest honor Columbia awards to civilians, being named a Comendador of Orden de Boyaca by the President of Columbia. She was also honored with the Cruz de Boyacá. Later that year on October 8, Trujillo received the STEM Awards from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation for her contribution to the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission.

To promote STEM education, Trujillo has been involved with the Brooke Owens Fellowship as a coach, mentor, leader, and Executive Team member since 2020. The Brooke Owens Fellowship is an internship program that mentors women who want to pursue careers in space exploration and aviation, and Trujillo has immensely contributed to that notion. In addition, Trujillo serves as a board member of the Children’s Center at Caltech–a center transforming early child development education. She is also a board member of the Columbia Memorial Space Center–a public science center established in predominantly Latinx communities–and Trujillo continues to aid those with similar backgrounds to herself. In the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and Plaza Sesamo (Sesame Street) educational program, Trujillo has worked to provide more inclusion for the Latinx community in these avenues. This move has created equality, opportunities, and representation for Latinx individuals. Finally, Trujillo is a member of the TECHNOLOchicas–a campaign that raises awareness about opportunities and careers in technology among young Latinas and their families–where she dedicates her time to assisting other young women who have dreams similar to herself.

Today, Trujillo is living her dream as an aerospace engineer at NASA and is a trailblazer for the Latinx community in STEM. She is currently the Technical Group Supervisor for Sequence Planning and Execution as well as the Tactical Mission Lead for the Perseverance Rover. Trujillo lives close to her work in Florida, and she returns home to her husband Will Pomeranz, and two children each day.

Why Did I Choose to Research Diana Trujillo?

In my Spanish II class, my teacher provides us with weekly slides to review and practice the material. This time was no different because she prepared an article entirely in Spanish for us to practice our reading skills. The article was about an aerospace engineer named Diana Trujillo. Later, I did some research about Trujillo because I, myself, am a part of the Latinx community, and I want to pursue a career in that STEM industry. I found her contributions to the STEM field admirable, and her push to encourage other individuals in the Latinx community to specialize in a STEM career is not only motivating but inspiring for me as an aspiring Latina in STEM.

Works Cited

“Behind the Spacecraft: From Columbia to Mars.” NASA, NASA, https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/multimedia/videos/?v=432

Brito, Christopher. “She Came to the U.S. with Only $300 and Worked Housekeeping Jobs to Pay for School. Now She's a Flight Director for NASA's Mars Perseverance.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 1 Mar. 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/diana-trujillo-nasa-mars-rover-perseverance/

“Diana Trujillo.” Brooke Owens Fellowship, http://www.brookeowensfellowship.org/diana-trujillo

“Diana Trujillo.” Leadercast, 27 June 2022, https://www.leadercast.com/speaker/diana-trujillo/

“NASA Engineer Diana Trujillo Advocates for Women of Color in STEM.” NASA Engineer Diana Trujillo Advocates for Women of Color in STEM, https://www.stemschool.com/articles/nasa-engineer-diana-trujillo-advocates-for-women-of-color-in-stem

Rachel DeSantis March 01, 2021 12:33 PM. “Meet NASA's Flight Director of Mars Perseverance, Who Came to U.S. with $300 and Cleaned Bathrooms.” PEOPLE.com, https://people.com/human-interest/meet-nasas-flight-director-mars-perseverance-who-came-to-u-s-with-300/?amp=true

Smith, Yvette. “Diana Trujillo: From Colombia to Mars.” NASA, NASA, 10 Sept. 2021, https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/diana-trujillo-from-colombia-to-mars

This article was published on 2/26/24