On A Course for
Mars

“I’m grateful to the people who provide scholarships to students. I’m more motivated because I don’t want to fail the people who have invested in me.”

As a woman studying aerospace engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and a first-generation college student, Margarita Herrera is no stranger to breaking down barriers. Herrera emigrated from El Salvador to the United States with her family when she was five. “Everything about my background says I should not be here,” she said, “I’m the daughter of a teen mom, I had to overcome a language barrier, I’m a minority and I didn’t grow up with financial stability.”

Herrera’s interest in space exploration began in high school, but she couldn’t help notice the relatively low number of women and people of color in the STEM programs. This only increased Herrera’s determination to succeed and to set a positive example for her younger sisters.

Herrera knew she’d need a scholarship to afford college. Thanks to generous UT donors, she was able to secure the funds she needed to become a Longhorn. “I am grateful to the people who provide scholarships to students,” she says. “I’m more motivated because I don’t want to fail the people who have invested in me.”

Mars images via nasa.gov
She found a mentor in Dr. Moriba Jah, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics. Herrera was struck by his unconventional look and diverse experiences. “He inspired me to take risks and has shown me that there isn’t one mold that I have to fit into in order to be successful,” she says.

In 2019, Herrera interned with Boeing as a test engineer working on their space launch system. There she had the opportunity to apply different structural tests on a rocket. “The goal is to launch the rocket to the moon and then, in 2028, to Mars,” she explains. After graduation this spring, she’ll join the Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems team as a lab manager.

She knows that she hasn’t achieved any of this alone. “I feel validated that people are seeing my hard work and are willing to invest in me,” she says. “I hope to be able to invest in other students once I graduate.”

“And I want to establish a colony on Mars,” she says. Herrera is determined to use her UT education to fulfill her dreams — dreams that are out of this world.

“I hope to be able to invest in other students once I graduate.”

Margarita Herrera

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