2015 Latina Trailblazer Award Recipients

This year HWNT is recognizing three Trailblazer Awards.  These women have achieved significant success and have blazed a trail for others to follow.  Congratulations to these three women! 


Col. Lisa Firmin,

Associate Provost for Diversity and Recruitment at the University of Texas at San Antonio


 As the Associate Provost for Diversity and Recruitment at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Lisa Firmin led development of the first top scholar program combining merit scholarships with student enrichment experiences and has been instrumental in enhancing the quality of each incoming freshman class through a variety of Tier One Recruitment initiatives and collaborations. She also led creation of the first ever Presidential level Distinguished Diversity awards program for faculty, staff and students at UTSA recognizing those who go above and beyond in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Firmin serves as co-chair of UTSA’s Veteran Student Advisory Committee, educating others about the nontraditional veteran student and in 2013, she co-authored a book chapter titled “Serving Student Veterans at the University of Texas at San Antonio: Accomplishments and Challenges,” in Building Bridges for Student Success: A Sourcebook for Colleges and Universities. In 2014, her collaborations resulted in the creation of an online training module highlighting Veteran Culture Competence for faculty and staff. She co-chaired a Diverse Faculty Recruitment Task Force which resulted in enhancements in the overall recruitment of underrepresented faculty at UTSA.

 Firmin retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel and its most senior ranking Latina officer.  She held key leadership and command positions and has extensive recruiting, retention and diversity management expertise at the highest levels of the Air Force and the Department of Defense.  As a commander in a combat zone, she led efforts to build up Balad Air Base in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star medal. She led the UTSA Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program to national distinction as the Best Large Detachment in the Nation.      

 Firmin has been featured in local print, radio, television and national magazines and received many honors and accolades such as the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National Latina Leader award, the Governor of Texas’ Yellow Rose award, the National Diversity Council’s Trailblazer and Most Powerful and Influential Women in Texas awards, Hispanic Organization for Public Employees Military Award, as well as the Northside Foundation’s Pillar of Character award.  She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Texas Diversity Council, a member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, a member of the Undergraduate Scholars Program Administrators Association, a member of Phi Kappa Phi and serves on the UTSA leadership team of the UT System Women’s Leadership Network and as Co-Chair of the UT Components Diversity Working Group.


Janie Barrera,

Founder and CEO, LiftFund

Janie Barrera is founding president and chief executive officer of Liftfund Created in 1994, Liftfund has grown to hold the nation’s largest microlending portfolio. The nonprofit agency provides small loans and management training to microenterprises of all kinds — from startups to long-established businesses — and operates in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

She has received recognition for her accomplishments, including the Small Business Administration Financial Services Advocate of the Year and the Minority Enterprise Development Consortium’s Corporate Advocate of the Year. San Antonio Business Journal listed Ms. Barrera as one of “Twenty Defining Players: People Who Have Helped Shape the City,” and also named her as one of 2013’s “Legacy Leaders.” Ms. Barrera has served on many national, state and local boards, including the Federal Reserve Board’s National Consumer Advisory Council. President Barack Obama appointed Ms. Barrera to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and she also was named to the board of directors for the Federal Reserve of Dallas’ San Antonio Branch.

Ms. Barrera began her career as director of telecommunications for the Diocese of Corpus Christi in 1977. There, she helped found the area’s first nonprofit radio stations, KLUX and KHOY, as well as two television production studios. After completing her MBA from the University of the Incarnate Word, the Corpus Christi native remained in San Antonio where, in 1989, she became marketing director for the U.S. Air Force Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base.


Dr. Ellen Ochoa 

Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX


Ellen Ochoa, a veteran astronaut, is the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center. Prior to being named director in 2012, she served the center as deputy director for five years.   Ochoa is JSC's first Hispanic director, and its second female director. Dr. Carolyn L. Huntoon served as JSC director from 1994-95. Ochoa, who considers La Mesa, Calif., to be her hometown, became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. She has flown in space four times, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. Prior to her astronaut career, she was a research engineer and inventor, with three patents for optical systems. She is honored to have four schools named for her: the Ellen Ochoa Middle School in Pasco, Wash., the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, Calif., the Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary in Grand Prairie, Texas and the Amino Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School in Los Angeles.

Ochoa earned a bachelor's degree in physics from San Diego State University and a master's degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.  As a doctoral student at Stanford, and later as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories and NASA Ames Research Center in California, Ochoa investigated optical systems for performing information processing. She is a co-inventor on three patents for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images.

 At Ames, she managed the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch before being selected as an astronaut in 1990. She flew on shuttle missions STS-56 in 1993, STS-66 in 1994, STS-96 in 1999, and STS-110 in 2002, logging a total of 978 hours in space.  She became deputy director of flight crew operations at Johnson in December 2002 and director of flight crew operations in September 2006. Ochoa has been recognized with NASA's Distinguished Service Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals. She also is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Harvard Foundation Science Award, Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, and San Diego State University Alumna of the Year. She is married to Coe Fulmar Miles of Molalla, Ore. They have two children.