There’s a new role model encouraging girls to reach for the stars.
Luciana Vega is an 11-year-old Chilean-American girl who dreams of being the first person to walk on Mars. And she’s American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year.
Though American Girl is known for its original line of historical dolls, books and accessories, Luciana isn’t a historical figure. Her story was created with modern girls between ages 6 and 12 in mind — or, as NASA likes to call them, the “Mars Generation.” Luciana is the first American Girl character created to encourage an interest for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
The doll and the first two books in her series debuted on New Year’s Day. A third book will follow this year. Her doll can be accessorized with flight and space suits, as well as a Mars habitat and maker station. A purple streak in her hair hints at her colorful creative side.
In the first book, Luciana goes to Space Camp, where she works on a robotics project and learns how to pilot a spacecraft and conduct experiments on the International Space Station in a simulated environment.
American Girl worked with an advisory board that included astronaut Megan McArthur Behnken, former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan, US Space and Rocket Center CEO and Executive Director Deborah Barnhart and NASA’s manager of strategic alliances, Maureen O’Brien.
We wanted to make sure we were getting it right, but we also wanted to bring attention to the fact that there are some really amazing women in this field,” said Julie Parks, director of public relations at American Girl. “This is something that could happen for you. It’s no secret that females are underrepresented in this area. We need strong innovators and a wide range of thinkers.”
The women reviewed Luciana’s stories for accuracy and authenticity, and weighed in with their own personal experiences in field.
Though the stories show that Luciana can succeed when she perseveres, they also show the reality of failure.
“We have an award at NASA called Fail Smart,” Stofan said. “If you do everything so carefully that you never fail, you never achieve great things. If you look at the history of NASA, every time we made a mistake, we haven’t given up.
“I think a lot of girls are sometimes intimidated by STEM careers because they think they have to be perfect in math or the top of their class. But what you really need to have is determination, the spirit to pick yourself up when you make a mistake and keep going. I really think it’s that determination, that will, the ability to come back from failure, that are the most important characteristics. I hope that girls who read these books are inspired by these tales of failure but persistence.”
The author and advisory board also thought it was important for Luciana to have a supportive family. Stofan’s own experience with that encouraged her career in planetary geology.
“For families reading these books out loud to their daughters, I hope they see that too,” Stofan said. “Girls need to be encouraged and told, ‘you can achieve these things.’ “
Luciana goes after her goals. She wants to be a good role model and big sister for the baby her parents are adopting from Chile. She strives to be a good friend and leader. And she tries to learn from her mistakes and move on.
“We can show girls that creative thinking, collaboration, teamwork and being a decent friend and a kind person, these are things that are more important in their world than ever as we are more divided,” Parks said. “Luciana can bring visibility and valuable lessons to girls at a time in their lives when they are learning about their infinite potential and their opportunities to change the world.”
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