Arijana Karadjuzovic learned to analyze and make well-considered decisions at a young age, and under extreme circumstances – abilities that serve her well in her role as operations program manager for Viasat’s upcoming global satellite constellation, ViaSat-3.
During this year’s World Space Week, celebrated Oct. 4-10, she reflects on the life path that brought her to Viasat and her work in the space industry.
Karadjuzovic is a Bosnian War refugee who fled the country at age 18 through an underground tunnel, leaving behind her parents and all she’d ever known. The family had already endured four years of war when Karadjuzovic – their only child – left Sarajevo in March 1995.
“We’d seen so many deaths and we weren’t seeing the end,” she said. “My family said, ‘If someone is going to survive, it’s going to be you.’ They made a difficult decision to try to save my life.”
She carried a backpack with an English dictionary, and her father’s parting words: “Be who you are and you’ll do well.”
Karadjuzovic escaped via the Sarajevo Tunnel, a .6-mile structure built under the Sarajevo airport runway that linked Sarajevo, a city cut-off by Serbian forces, with an area controlled by the United Nations.
“I was all alone, and I was afraid,” she said. “But I didn’t see anything for me or my family if I stayed. If I were to leave and survive, I would be able to help them. It was a huge challenge, but I was eager to make that change.”
Karadjuzovic escaped, emigrated to the United States and enrolled in college. She viewed her educational success as the path to rescuing her parents and adopted a laser-focus to her academics.
“I was 300 percent driven with what my next steps are, constantly asking myself, ‘What is it I need to do?’” she said. “But I also enjoyed being a student tremendously. In the war years, I went to school in little hideaways without light. So being in the U.S. – having all the tools, books and light to be able to read by – added to my fire to do well.”
Her focus and determination paid off.
In 2000, Karadjuzovic reunited with her parents when they attended her graduation from Humboldt State University. She’d earned a degree in physical science and applied mathematics, and the family later moved to California. She’s since started her master’s degree in physics, married and had two children, and worked for several other companies before joining Viasat in 2019.
World Space Week is Oct. 4-10
This year’s World Space Week celebrates women in space. While female interest in engineering and related degrees is rising, women still lag far behind men in pursuing such careers. In 2019, about 27% of men expressed interest in an engineering career compared to 7% of women. Of the engineering degrees awarded to women in 2018, aerospace engineering does not even make the top 10. And to date, a total of 566 people have been sent into space — only 65 of them women.
Yet recent reports show the space industry is undergoing a long-overdue diversity shift. NASA’s Artemis moon mission – which intends to put humans back on the moon by 2024 – is expected to land the first woman on the moon. NASA has also been steadily hiring more women among its ranks – 34% of its employees are female. For the first time in 11 years, the European Space Agency began its first recruitment drive for new astronauts – emphasizing female applicants as well as those with disabilities.
Today, we celebrate the advancements of women in these careers, profiling an inspiring female Viasat employee working in the space industry.