Math and Science Exploration Day during Hispanic, Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week brought together more than 1,000 students from the South Texas Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) to learn about exciting and innovative careers in the fields of math, science and engineering.
The day included a speech from Derek Parra, 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist and world record holder in the 1500-meters, who shared his lessons for success.
"There's a saying, a smart person learns from his mistakes, a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.' That's what I'm here today to share with you, the lessons to success," Parra said.
Parra shared his advice for success, and said students should seek perfection in everything they do. He advised that they learn to adapt and stay ahead of their game and also encouraged students to prepare for the future and have faith in their preparation.
Parra started out as a roller-skating champion who later went on to in-line speed skating and at the age of 26, changed his skating style once more to that of ice speed skating.
"I had to have patience, a complete understanding of the technique and focus to make it as an Olympian, but it was the lessons I learned and people who helped along the way that got me there," he said.
Parra credits his success to his wife, who largely supported the family while he tried to qualify for the Olympic team. She worked two jobs, a third job on weekends and went to school full time during the years leading up to the 2002 Olympics.
"I saw all the faces of everyone who had helped me along the way when I won the gold medal. It was just like having my life past before my eyes," said Parra.
A live downlink with the orbiting space station, the last one with the current Expedition 7 crew, was another highlight of the day. From 230 miles in space, Astronauts Yuri Malenchenko and Edward T. Lu joined the HESTEC celebration and answered questions from students.
"The best piece of advice I can give you is to keep asking questions. Don't accept things at face value," Lu said.
Featured during the question-and-answer session was a group of second grade students from Crockett Elementary in McAllen. The class was the youngest group at HESTEC given the opportunity to ask the astronauts a question.
Despite sweltering humidity and a cloudy sky, the solar car competition zoomed on, mostly on batteries rather than sunshine, during Exploration Day. Student teams from more than 42 South Texas schools brought a team car built by participating GEAR UP students from each school to compete in the double elimination competition sponsored and judged by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Ilona Belínarío, physics teacher at Zapata High School, said her school team's car broke down but the students and teachers were still enjoying the competition and other HESTEC events.
"This competition provides the students great exposure to technology and incorporates science and math into the activity. It is amazing what the students can learn," Belinario said.
Dr. Edwin LeMaster, associate dean of the School of Engineering, said the competition provides the students an opportunity to work together as teams and do a project.
"They are building something under constraints as a team - that's what engineers do," said LeMaster.
This year, UT Pan American provided engineering students in the area GEAR UP schools several weeks prior to the competition for mentoring students in following the rules for the construction of their cars and in fielding some of the technical questions students had.
Robert Gilchrist, a UTPA junior majoring in mechanical engineering, mentored at Port Isabel, Rio Hondo, Raymondville and Harlingen South High Schools.
"We were there to make sure they were on track - keeping in the guidelines, following the rules and answering their technical questions," said Gilchrist. One of Gilchrist's schools where he mentored, Rio Hondo, placed first in the solar car design.
"We were supposed to be unbiased but I felt proud that Rio Hondo won because I was the one answering their questions for them."
Each member of the winning school's three-member solar car design team, racing team and the wind-powered generator project team won a laptop computer from DOE.
Winning high school teams included the following: For solar car racing - Weslaco, first; Rivera, Brownsville, second; and Valley View, Pharr, third. For solar car design - Rio Hondo, first; Rio Grande City, second; and Progreso, third. For wind powered electric generator - Porter, Brownsville, first; Rio Hondo, second; and James Pace, Brownsville, third.
UT Pan American students also participated in the Exploration Day activities by attending a special lecture with Cathy Seeley, who is on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Seeley spoke of the importance of mathematics in today's society, and the need for more students to acquire an interest in the field.
"The more math you know, the more career options you will have," Seeley said. "I look at the amount of math and science needed in the best jobs of today, and I realize that mathematics is the doorway to success."
HESTEC continues Wednesday with a career fair for university students from throughout South Texas. During the evening, the public is invited to attend Sci-Tech Expo Community Night, which will feature Jeff Corwin, the host of the "Jeff Corwin Experience" on the Animal Planet Channel.