Hugo Villafana spent most of his life in the poor farming community of El Tepamal, in the Guanajuato state of Mexico. Although he grew up far away from the nearest airport, and without access to computers or the internet, he was fascinated by the rockets and spacecraft he saw on TV news reports about NASA. He dreamed not of becoming a farmer, but of becoming a NASA Engineer.

Hugo Villafana as a child

Hugo as a young child growing up in El Tepamal.

Each day, with an infectious smile and a positive attitude, he works hard and gets closer to making that dream a reality.

After moving to U.S., Hugo enrolled at Orange Coast College and, with the help of Base 11 and its partner the National College Resource Foundation, spent a summer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by Caltech, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “This experience helped me confirm that I’m on the right track, and I am definitely doing my passion,” said Hugo.

Hugo continued working toward his goal, enrolling in Base 11’s academic-year internship at the University of Southern California’s rocket propulsion lab in the spring – and at the time he was the only community college student among the ranks of undergraduate and graduate students in the lab.

Hugo headshot

Hugo at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

“I showed up knowing nothing about rockets except that I like rockets,” Hugo said. But he absorbed information like a sponge, spending a few hours each week helping the students build a rocket. He precisely cut the carbon fiber for the rocket, and learned to use computer-aided engineering and design software.

In the summer, Hugo continued his path to the Base 11 Victory Circle by enrolling in the paid
summer fellowship program
in mechanical engineering at USC where he and a team of community college students conducted research on the behavior of small aircraft wings in a wind tunnel.

Hugo’s academic performance and hands-on research experiences have earned him a full ride to USC to study aerospace engineering.  But he won’t stop there. Hugo has his sights set on two master’s degrees and a doctorate, so that he can achieve his ultimate dream of working for NASA as an expert in jet propulsion.

Though this journey is far from over, already Hugo says, “Base 11 has helped me achieve many of my dreams.”


Applications are now open for Base 11’s summer 2017 fellowship. Learn more and apply: