This Hispanic Heritage Month, as we continue to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Latinx people in America, we’re thrilled to be able to highlight some incredible individuals doing amazing work in a field we don’t hear nearly enough about. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics aka STEM! People of Latin American descent continue to be under-represented in STEM and it’s clear there’s still a lot of work that needs to happen. According to a recent PEW study, Latinos make up 17 percent of the workforce in this country, but only 8 percent of all STEM workers, and that number has only increased by one percent since 2016. That’s in keeping with the increase observed in the workforce as a whole, but what it indicates, is that very few Latinx people are choosing to obtain degrees in STEM fields.
We think that needs to change. But so many of us grew up not knowing that things like engineering and computer programming were even options, that it’s inevitably going to take a while. But, as is the case with most things, representation can make a huge difference. The more we see people with similar backgrounds to our own doing things, the more likely we are to believe we—and our kids—can do them too. So here, we’re sharing some of the most inspiring and hardworking Latinas in STEM, so you can support them, and learn about the incredible work they’re all doing in their fields and for their communities.
NASA flight director Diana Trujillo garnered national attention in February 2021, when the Mars rover Perseverance safely landed after a seven-month journey to the red planet. Diana was a part of the team responsible for the incredibly successful mission, a major milestone especially considering she once worked as a housekeeper and moved to the U.S. from Colombia at 17 with $300 in her pocket. She is now a well-known aerospace engineer, despite the fact that she had no idea what she planned to study until the very moment she was in line to declare her major at the University of Florida.
Mom-of-one Angela Guzman has one of the coolest jobs ever! She designs emojis, including the original set of Apple emojis. Technically, she’s a UX (user experience) design lead, and she’s also worked to make the experiences we’ve all had on sites like Google and Airbnb more fun and engaging. To date, Angela has over two dozen design patents to her name and recently launched Tijiko, a personalized digital coaching service, that matches people “empathic lifestyle coaches,” that will help them achieve their personal goals.
Mariana Costa Checa
Mariana Costa Checa is working to create opportunities for girls interested in STEM throughout all of Latin America. A recent recipient of the Change Agent Abie Award, Mariana is the co-founder and CEO of Laboratoria, an organization intended to prepare young , underprivileged women from throughout Latin America for careers in technology. The BBC named Mariana, who was born in Lima, Peru, one of the most influential women in 2016, and she made it on MIT’s list of Peru’s leading innovators under age 35. She’s also spoken on a panel alongside President Barack Obama and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
Jazlyn L. Carvajal
Jazlyn L. Carvajal is an engineer and entrepreneur who has co-founded multiple businesses including Latinas in Stem. The organization hopes to “inspire and empower” future generations of Latina interested in pursuing careers in STEM, by providing mentorship, educational opportunities and professional development. Jazlyn, who was born to Chilean and Puerto Rican parents, also currently owns a business consulting firm called Stay On Your Daily.
Cecilia Aragon has a resumé a mile long, and she’s spent much of her career breaking barriers. Cecilia is the first Latina full-time professor at the University of Washington College of Engineering, she’s a pilot, and she’s a scientist who has taught astronauts. Oh, and did we mentioned she recently wrote a memoir too? No goal is out of reach for Cecilia who is a first-generation Latina and says she struggled to be taken seriously in math and science for years. She’s obviously persisted through it all to achieve her dream of making the U.S. Aerobatic Team and even designed software for NASA.
Laura I. Gomez
Laura I. Gómez, is using her talents in technology for good. She is the Founder and CEO of Atipica, Inc., a venture-backed startup and a founding member of Project Include, a non-profit organization that is working to push tech companies to prioritize diversity and inclusion. Laura grew up in a single parent household in Silicone Valley and mother was actually a nanny for some of the leaders in the tech industry at the time exposing Laura to careers in that field. She is currently working on a project called Proyecto Solace, which is specifically for the Latinx community, and intended to create safe spaces for “collective healing and mental wellness.”
“Most people would assume, ‘Well, I can’t build an app, I can’t build a website, I cant do this, I wasn’t formally trained, I didn’t go to school, I’m too young, I’m a girl,” Stephanie Castillo told NBC News in a 2016 interview, going on to explain that’s exactly why she started Latina Girls Code, an organization that trains young girls between the ages of 7 and 17 for future careers in tech.
Afro-Latinx Jessica Esquivel is a particle physicist who currently works at Fermilab, where she and her fellow scientists work on particle accelerators and study matter and energy. She’s also a part of the Change-Now initiative, which is a collective of Black Fermilab scientists calling for change within the company and holding it accountable for how it interacts with its Black employees.
Marlem Rivera was born to teenage parents, and grew up to be a scientist that sequences DNA at the biotechnology company Illumina. It all started with a 5th grade summer science program. Marlem has explained that through that experience she developed relationships with mentors that encouraged her to pursue her dreams despite the fact that she didn’t see many people like her in the field. Now, she’s the one providing the example for budding Latina scientists.
Ana Maria Porras
Ana Maria Porras is a Colombian immigrant who has been in the United States for a little more than a decade and has managed to achieve great heights in STEM. She has a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently a Cornell Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow. She’s worked steadfastly to promote diversity in STEM through various organizations and initiatives. Ana has conducted research on a number of topics related to infection and disease, and has used her experience and knowledge to teach children science communication a the Clubes de Ciencia Colombia.