Meet Dijanna Figueroa

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Dr. Dijanna Figueroa holds a Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles and a PhD in Marine Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work as a deep-sea marine scientist and educator has been featured in various science documentaries, nature programs, and publications. She has over 10 years of experience teaching science, engineering, and STEM in K-8 schools throughout greater Los Angeles.
Top, Pleats Please ; Pants, Vintage
Dress, Rosie Assoulin, Gold earrings, Lizzie Fortunato

Dress, Rosie Assoulin, Gold earrings, Lizzie Fortunato


I wake up early on weekdays and begin with meditation, journaling, and quick yoga practice. It helps center my day, and I set my intention. It is the only quiet “me time” I have before my family wakes up. I write a few pages every day to clear my mind. I also make a to-do list. I like to diffuse essential oils in the morning. Young Living’s Rosemary or Peppermint are my go-to. After “me time,” I get ready for the rapid pace of the morning: a little bit of snuggle time with the kids, make lunches, breakfast, make sure everyone has the proper clothes, fill the water bottle, take vitamins (multi green supplement, calcium, and fish oil), then head out the door by 6:45 AM and prepare for the hour-long commute.

on her lifelong interest in marine biology

I grew up in Long Beach, CA. My mom is an art therapist and my dad is the pastor of a church. When I was younger, I loved playing imagination games with my brother and pretend we were on an adventure to explore an unseen part of Earth. I would watch nature programs and Indiana Jones movies and spend summers at the beach learning how to bodysurf and boogie board. In high school, I took a marine biology class and was hooked. I didn’t know how to swim yet and the ocean was somewhat scary to me, but I knew I wanted to spend my life exploring and studying the ocean.

The defining moment was my first expedition with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. This was the first time I saw the deep sea through the lens of a remotely operated vehicle. As the submarine descended to the depths of the ocean, the color went from brilliant blue-green to pitch black darkness. It was creepy and cool. When the sun finally reached the bottom of the ocean, I was really blown away! Animals can make it in the deepest, darkest, and hardest-to-reach spots on Earth. I wanted to know more about them and how they survive. This curiosity pushed me to pursue a career and Ph.D. in Marine Science.

I worked for the Marine Science Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara as a research scientist on a national project that combined research with education. I also consulted for nature film and media. My work with movie director James Cameron’s production company help put me in a position to be a marine scientist and science communicator/educator.

Trench, Yang Li Men ; T-Shirt, Vintage ; Choker, Vintage YSL ; Pants, Sonia Rykiel
“I like to think of Marine Science as the study of the biological, chemical, and geological makeup of the ocean and how animals interact within these three systems. It includes marine biology, climate science, geology, chemistry, engineering, physiology, and many more subdisciplines.”
— on her definition of Marine Science

on working on Ad Council's She Can STEM campaign

I love engaging young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by sharing my ocean adventures and nurturing their curiosity. I am committed to engaging, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring the next generation of scientists, engineers, explorers, mathematician, and storytellers. I want them to experience the pure joy and fun of it all, and I want to encourage them to follow their path of curiosity to build STEM skills and experiences. The minds of these young people are essential to developing solutions to the technical, scientific, social, and economic problems we face.

on working on James cameron’s FILM, Aliens of the Deep

As one of a few labs in the US studying deep-sea hydrothermal vents, James Cameron’s production company reached out to my lab group when I was a graduate student. I met with the producers about my research, and next thing I knew, I was flying to Newfoundland to join an ocean expedition to vents with the movie crew. I was in the right place at the right time and had the expertise that was needed for the job. One of my biggest lessons was understanding the power of storytelling and how that can transform and transcend basic understanding of how important it is to be the author of your own story.

on the importance of putting family first

Finding balance is a continuing journey but I do my best to set boundaries and keep family time sacred. My biggest challenge is still learning when to say no. As my children get older, I can go on longer expeditions and projects that require me to spend more time away from home. My advice to parents in the field navigating work-life and family balance is to follow your instinct. For me, it is family first. This choice has brought me great joy and fulfillment. I enjoy being their science teacher and they enjoy being my students as we learn and travel together.

Skirt, Mumbi’s Designs

Skirt, Mumbi’s Designs

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“I studied animals that live in hydrothermal vent environments. These type of environments are considered toxic and harsh due to the constantly changing temperatures, volcanic activity, and water chemistry. I found heat shock proteins to be great indicators for environment stress limits. Understanding the expression patterns and thermal tolerances of animals adapted to extreme environments was really cool work.”
— on exciting discoveries and projects
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Top, Rejina Pyo, Pants, Raquella Allegra, Earrings, J.Hannah, Ring, Pamela Love, Shoes, Newbark

Top, Rejina Pyo, Pants, Raquella Allegra, Earrings, J.Hannah, Ring, Pamela Love, Shoes, Newbark

On her favorite books

I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy novels. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a West African inspired fantasy novel. I love supporting female sci-fi fantasy writers. There are so few and they inspire me! I am reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming and it’s inspiring me to tell my story in a manner and format that can be helpful to other aspiring African American women in science and engineering. The world needs more black scientists and engineers! I also like to keep up with whatever my kids are reading and have been enjoying the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger. I also recommend Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts, Star Wars: The Essential Atlas by Daniel Wallace, The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak, Doctor Who: Character Encyclopedia and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess by Akira Himekawa.

For science and marine science, I recommend National Geographic’s Citizens of the Sea, Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky and She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton.

For teaching, making, and creativity, I recommend Launch: Using Design Thinking by John Spencer, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and The New Right Stuff by Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides.

on keeping up with news and research

I visit the websites NOAA Exploration and Research, OceanX, Marine Advanced Technology and Education and listen to the podcast This Week In Science.

on her favorite crystals

I love crystals and get them from Open Eye Crystals in Los Angeles. They do so much, but mostly I love them because they are pretty and add peaceful energy to the room and my life. Black tourmaline absorbs negative energy. Selenite clears negative energy. Snakeskin agate helps eliminate worry and depression. Fluorite is a stone to help focus, clarity, and concentration. Tiger eye helps with balance. Carnelian increases confidence and Bloodstone helps combats fear.

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on her self care rituals

I love to do yoga and meditation practice at Crenshaw Yoga studio. I do weekly beach walks and always enjoy reading a good sci-fi novel. I enjoy writing, as well as binge-watching Expanse on Netflix!

on her homemade beauty routine

I like to use African shea butter to moisturize my skin. I make my own hair products from natural shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils. I make my own hair conditioner by mixing 2 cups of shea butter, 2 cups and 1 tablespoon of organic coconut oil, 3 drops of lavender oil, 2 drops tea tree oil, and 1 drop of lemongrass. I also make a facial soap using Baby Unscented Castile Soap, Distilled Water, 10 drops of frankincense oil, 5 drops of lavender, and 1 drop of carrot oil. I also like Mama Sunshine’s Mud Whip for natural hair!

on music and her favorite records

There is nothing like putting on a record and dancing with the person you love. Many of my records were once my grandmother's records. I love to imagine that we are enjoying some of the same types of music. I love Taylor Swift’s 1989, Tango Time: Xavier Cugat and Mark Webster and Their Orchestra, The Genius of Ray Charles The Beatles’s Abbey Road, Bret Lover’s The Billie Holiday Story and Hamilton, The Musical.

on her style and where she shops

I’d describe my style as comfortable, colorful, tribal, and ethnic. I love Blue Moon Designs, and Mumbi’s Designs.

Dijanna’s favorite spots in LA

Stuff I Eat, Sabrak Boutique, K and W Hair Studio in Inglewood, Goleta Coffee in Santa Barbara, South Coast Plaza in Orange County, Mantra Henna and Eyebrows, Tozai Plaza in Gardena, Huntington Gardens, The Getty Villa, Natural History Museum and Rose Garden, Yoga Cycle at Redondo Beach, Black Melrose on Manchester, HHLA for movies, Howard Hughes LA theater, The Last Bookstore for used books, The Pantages Theater, Catalina Island and Santa Cruz island for scuba diving and ocean adventures and In2Deep Dive Shop in Santa Monica for Ocean Adventures.

T-shirt, Nordstrom ; Jeans, Nordstrom ; Vest, Blue Moon Designs ;  Boots, Amazon

T-shirt, Nordstrom ; Jeans, Nordstrom ; Vest, Blue Moon Designs ; Boots, Amazon

Photography by Maggie Shannon