As we near the close of Women’s History Month 2022, we’ve been reflecting on poderosas in different fields who are truly making a difference. Ellen Ochoa made history as the first Latina to go into space in 1993 and more recently aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo was part of the NASA team in charge of the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars in 2020. Yet can’t help but mourn the fact that we still continue to be not only under-represented, but also seriously underpaid. Women are magic. We are brilliant, bold, brave, innovative beings, who have always done and continue to do the most impressive things. Yet, in 2021, women still made 22.1 percent less than men did, and Latinas struggled even more, making less than 60 percent of what white men do. In STEM fields, where Latinxs as a whole are severely underrepresented — we hold just eight percent of jobs in the U.S. — the stats are equally disturbing.
Women in STEM are paid more than 75 percent less than men, and get this: the pay gap between Black women and Latinas and white men in STEM has actually widened since 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. You know what that means? Our contributions to STEM fields are not being acknowledged, but we’re changing that here. In the interest of not just recognizing, but also celebrating, the achievements of Latinas in STEM, we’re sharing a list of 12 Latinas in STEM, who’ve made history in their fields.
Engineer and astronaut, Ellen Ochoa, made history in 1993 when she became the first Latina to go into space. She did so on the Space Shuttle Discovery on a nine-day mission during which she and other astronauts studied the Earth’s ozone layer. To date, Ochoa has spent nearly 1,000 hours in space, and she was also the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center — its first Latinx director and only its second female director.
Aerospace engineer, Diana Trujillo, was a critical member of the NASA team that achieved the historic landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars in 2020. Currently serving as Technical Group Supervisor for Sequence Planning and Execution and a Tactical Mission Lead for the Mars Perseverance rover, she served as flight director for the 2020 mission. Not only that, but she also co-created NASA’s first-ever Spanish-language live broadcast of a planetary landing.
Graphic designer Angela Guzman, who was born in Colombia, revolutionized the way we communicate as the co-designer of the Apple emojis in 2008 when she was an intern. She was assigned the creation of a set of 500 emojis, a term she’d never even heard of at that point. Since then she’s worked at other major companies including Airbnb and Pinterest as a designer.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) December 15, 2020
California nurse practitioner, Helen Cordova, became the first person in the state of California —and amongst the firsts in the entire United States — to receive a COVID-19 vaccination back in December 2020. Her state was positively ravaged by the virus in its first year, and she wanted to do whatever she could to help. Despite initial reservations about such a new vaccine, she decided to trust the science. “I started speaking to fellow providers, people at work, and experts in the field and just asking, ‘Hey, what are your thoughts on the vaccine? Like, what do you think?’ And that really helped, slowly, but surely changed my stance on the vaccine,” she told Salud America.
Antonia Novello wasn’t just the first Latina surgeon general in the United States, she was the country’s first female surgeon general. Originally from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, she was appointed by President George Bush in 1990 and served for three years. Previously, she worked at the National Institutes of Health as a public health administrator for more than two decades. As a physician, she specialized in pediatrics.
Monica Mann was part of a group of women scientists who pioneered COVID-19 research nearly from the outset of the outbreak. Her work was instrumental in tracking the spread of the virus and identifying mutations. “Some of them will open. They will open. And fortunately, we live in a country where you can start again from zero, career-wise, at any point of your life,” she told NBC News, of the doors that have opened throughout her career.
We are so proud of Monica Mann, Elizabeth Zelaya, and Connie Maza who are scientists on the front lines of this pandemic. 👩🏾🔬🧪
They’re out analyzing Covid-19 samples every day and are tracking the spread of COVID and identifying mutations.
— Voto Latino (@votolatino) April 2, 2021
Elizabeth Zelaya worked alongside Mann at the Washington, D.C., Department of Forensic Sciences’ Public Health Laboratory Division, testing the country’s very first COVID-19 patients. “Every day I reflect and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is probably going to be in a history book,'” she told NBC News, also noting that she’s often met with surprise when she tells people that she’s a scientist. She’s not just a scientist anymore, she’s a part of modern history.
Former @GalvestonEdu student and Ball High grad, Connie Maza, is a member of a group of scientists taking the lead in identifying cases of the coronavirus in Washington DC at the Forensic Sciences Public Health Laboratory. #whitecapsway #WomensHistoryMonth https://t.co/3gpBcclshe
— Galveston College (@GalvestonEdu) March 5, 2020
The third member of the self-proclaimed “las tres mosqueteras,” Connie Maza worked tirelessly with Mann and Zelaya. They’ve continued to work on COVID-19 research over the past two years, but it was the beginning that was most overwhelming. “I’m normally pretty calm when I do testing, and I mean, my manual dexterity skills are pretty good. But at that moment when I was testing Covid, I have to admit it was nerve-wracking. …It was scary at first. I was very nervous,” she said, of their groundbreaking work.
Also a major player in the fight against COVID-19, Nanette Cocero, who is the global president of vaccines for Pfizer, actually led the development of the pharmaceutical company’s Covid vaccine. Pfizer’s was actually the first to be approved in the United States, thanks to Cocero’s dedication and the commitment of the team that worked under her. She has said that one of the most important aspects of the development for her, was to make sure that it would be easily accessible for people from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias
Puerto Rican physician Helen Rodriguez-Trías, was the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association, a founding member of the Women’s Caucus of the APHA and of the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse. She dedicated her entire career to women’s and children’s healthcare and rights, as well as to working with HIV and AIDS patients during the height of the epidemic, back in the 1980s. In 2001, she received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, before passing away the very same year.
Adriana Ocampo Uria
Born in Colombia and raised in Argentina, NASA scientist Adriana Ocampo Uria’s research actually led to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico. The crater was formed by an asteroid that hit the Earth, tens of millions of years ago, and is believed to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs, although some believe the crater predates that extinction event. Ocampo Uria has led at least six expeditions of the crater. She worked full-time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory while obtaining both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
María Elena Bottazzi
Honduran microbiologist María Elena Bottazzi co-created a low-cost COVID vaccine for global use – Corbevax. She and Dr. Peter Hotez led the team at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital to develop the COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it worldwide. She and Hotez have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and if she wins she’ll join just six other Latin Americans who’ve received the award.