Michigan Engineering News

Elio Morillo smiles while wearing a NASA jacket

A launchpad for engineers

An alum who blazed a trail inspires others to do the same.

Elio Morillo (BS ME ’15, MSE SED ’17) was born in Ecuador, and not long after he and his mother immigrated to New York City, he realized he wanted to be an engineer. He was inspired by the fighter jets, rockets, gadgets and spacecraft that appeared in the cartoons, art and documentaries that he watched growing up between New York City and Puerto Rico. But he also noticed that most of the people behind those incredible machines didn’t look or sound like him.

He became an engineer anyway, putting his U-M degrees to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and, most recently, at Blue Origin. Morillo helped test hardware aboard the Perseverance rover, which is currently taking measurements on Mars. He also helped operate the Ingenuity Mars helicopter—the first controlled vehicle to fly on Mars—both during its early days as a demo and later, as it scouted for navigable terrain for Perseverance.

A man stands in a blue button shirt, navy pants and blue and yellow striped tie. He's wearing a graduation cap and holding a Block M.
Morillo at his graduation in 2017. Photo courtesy of Elio Morillo.

But Morillo hasn’t forgotten the challenges he faced as a Hispanic college student. That’s why he recently published his memoir, “The Boy Who Reached for the Stars.”

“A lot of people don’t even know what the college application process is like and don’t know what help they can get, or what questions to even ask,” Morillo said. “Once people are in college, they also might not know about the resources that can ensure their success. Spreading that awareness is critical. That’s why to me, the two most important things a student can do to be successful are ask for help and build a community,” Morillo said.

Morillo’s memoir details how he built his U-M support network through M-STEM, a program that supports incoming first-year students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds through their first two years of college. M-STEM was so instrumental in building Morillo’s support network that he considers it the launchpad for his space-faring career with NASA.

“The people I met through M-STEM more than a decade ago are some of my closest friends to this day,” he said. “They motivate me to be a better engineer and a better person.”

Morillo hopes his memoir will offer support to other young students as they work toward their own goals, just as his mentors at M-STEM and elsewhere supported him.

“I hope my memoir inspires students to reach beyond the stars, reminding them that their dreams are not just fantasies, but destinies waiting to be fulfilled,” he said.

Media Contact

Derek Smith

News & Feature Writer