California State University, Dominguez Hills welcomed Milka Duno, the first Latina race car driver to be classified “expert,” to the annual “La Feria Es El Momento: Edúcalos” that took place on campus on Oct. 22. Duno, who represented her “Milka Way” organization at the event sponsored by Univision, was invited by the network to serve as the keynote speaker to an audience in the University Theatre.
Duno spoke to students and potential students of all ages and their families and encouraged youths to achieve higher education in order to be successful. She has made history by being the first Latin American woman to compete in NASCAR. In addition to this extraordinary achievement, she has also attained four master’s degrees in organizational development, naval architecture, fishing and aquaculture and maritime business, earning the last three degrees simultaneously. A qualified naval engineer, Duno said that she achieved these goals with the support of her parents who always motivated her and told her that education was the key to success.
“For whatever you want to be you have to study,” she said. “Whether it is being a soccer player, boxer, [or race car driver].”
Duno became acquainted with car racing when she attended the Porsche Driving Clinic in 1998 and discovered a passion for race cars. From there, she traveled to the United States to take professional race car driving classes.
Duno has won numerous races and titles in her trajectory as an “expert” race car driver. She is the first woman to win a major international race in the U.S., the first Hispanic woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500, and the first woman to compete and lead in the IndyCar series. She has a historic second place record of the highest finish by a female driver in the 24 Hours of Daytona, was named “Venezuelan Auto Racing Driver of the Year” in her second year of racing, and was crowned Vice Champion Driver in the American Le Mans LMP675 Championship. Duno was also the first Venezuelan athlete to be inducted into the Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame at their 35th Anniversary Induction Ceremony in 2010.
“Things are hard but not impossible to accomplish,” she said to the assembled audience. “It is up to us to have strength and continue working hard to secure our goals.”
Duno said that race car driving incorporates the fields that she studied since mechanics, aerodynamics, and organizational work come into play when she works together with a team to win the race. She strongly believes that education is the way to have a successful life and appreciates her parents’ advice. She said she is who she is now thanks to her parents and encouraged students to study and take advantage of all the opportunities they are given.
“You need to study and accept the opportunities,” said Duno. “You are the future; you need to prepare to have families and better opportunities to learn to contribute to the ones that come behind.”
Duno’s father had to have two to three jobs at a time so that Milka and her brothers would have an education. When she wanted to go to Spain to study abroad, she was grateful for her parents’ hard work and strong support, but had to find extra help to afford the trip. She competed for a scholarship and was selected among many people that applied for it, and as a result, was able to complete three master’s degrees in Spain from the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros Navales and the Instituto Maritimo Espanol. Duno also studied at the Instituto Universitario Politecnico de las Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales in Venezuela, where approximately 120 people were chosen to be in the engineering program. Only four students graduated, among whom Duno was first in the class. In addition, she earned a master’s degree in organizational development from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas.
“I had determination in what I wanted to do and I didn’t let anyone intimidate me to not reach my goals,” Duno said. “The strongest tool is to have education. You can be as good as or better than the one that is beside you because [you] have the ability and capacity.”
Duno has written an award-winning bilingual book called, “Go, Milka, Go!” (“Corre, Milka, Corre!”) based on her personal story, to inspire children of all ages to love education. She is also a promoter of her “Milka Way” organization that motivates Hispanic youth to “Aim for the Stars” through education. Duno also starred in the 2008 film adaptation of the animated series, “Speed Racer” as Gearbox/Kellie Kalinkova, a Russian race car driver. She will continue to race this year in the 2011 Arca Series. In this series, Duno and her team, Sheltra Motorsports will compete to keep the 2010 championship title.
Duno said that education was the main thing that made her successful, prepared her to accept challenges, and not let any obstacle get in the way of achieving her goals. She encouraged parents to help their children understand that education is what will give them a better life.
“The principle thing that will help you is education … preparedness and studying,” she said. “Focus and leave all your energy in studies, is what you have to do to have a good future.”
Jennifer Lopez is a freshman majoring in criminal justice and a student employee in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.