Ford Motor Company truly was "the best in Texas" Sept. 28 by showing their support for Rio Grande Valley youth in sponsoring, along with the Ford Motor Company Fund, Hispanic Student Leadership Day as part of The University of Texas-Pan American's third annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.
Camilo Pardo, chief designer in Ford's Living Legends Studio, Mike de Irela, executive director of manufacturing and powertrain operations, North America, and other top Ford executives, engineers and outreach personnel participated in a day dedicated to encouraging and inspiring more than 2,000 Valley GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) students to pursue higher education, particularly in the fields of math, science and engineering.
UTPA President Blandina Cárdenas kicked off the day by asking the students to think of the technological changes that have occurred just in their lifetime.
"You are living in a time of rapid change. Your future will be one filled with possibilities," she said.
However, Cárdenas warned that they needed to begin to prepare to work and lead in that future. "You will need to understand science and technological content. You can't even fix a Ford now without knowing computer technology," Cárdenas said.
Cárdenas was followed by a welcoming statement from Sandra E. Ulsh, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, who said the company "believes in you." In 2003, the Ford Motor Company Fund gave more than $80 million to educational and environmental initiatives, cultural sponsorships and performing arts events.
Pardo, a New York native who graduated from the College of Creative Studies with a degree in industrial design with a transportation major, said he started working for Ford Motor Company in 1985. He is an accomplished sculptor, artist and designer of clothing and furniture and said his interest in fine arts and architecture influences his automobile design work.
"All these mediums really work with each other, they compliment each other and it gives you a good understanding how one area can help the other. There is always a little bit of industrial design approach to my fine art but it works well together," he said.
Pardo said the GT, initially priced at $139,000, produces 550 horsepower, will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds and has a top speed of 212 miles per hour.
"The car doesn't have anything that you really don't need when driving a serious vehicle, like an ash tray or a cup holder. You are going to need both hands on the wheel," he said.
When asked by an audience member about what decisions he made when he was young that helped make him successful, Pardo said that, unlike many of his high school classmates, he always knew what he wanted to do.
"I recommend that you guys find out what you like to do, what comes natural for you. Start investigating what it would be like to be a professional at it," he said.
Pardo said his art department instructors gave him a lot of support and made him aware of what colleges were available for what he wanted to do.
"I had a great push from my instructors. They made sure I was producing (my portfolio) by the week to get in the school to do what I wanted to do. You need that natural drive that does show in your work so I encourage you to find what you want to do and drive at it very hard," he said.
A question and answer session with a panel of five Ford Motor Company USA panel employees gave the students some insights on engineering and other careers at Ford as well as advice on achieving their educational and career goals.
Panelists included Pardo; Frank Flores, supervisor, RVT, Body CAD; Samuel Hueso, design manager; Aaron Acuña, CD3 E/E systems engineer; and Marisela Reyes, design and release engineer.
Both Reyes and Acuña are Rio Grande Valley natives. Reyes, born in McAllen and raised in Mission, is a UTPA Tex Prep alumna, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in industrial and operations engineering and her master's in engineering with a focus in manufacturing from Purdue University. Acuña, an Edinburg native, is a graduate of UTPA with a degree in electrical engineering and is currently working on his master's in engineering management from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Flores said as a ninth grade student, he developed a friendship with a high achiever in his class and began to compete with him in marks in school. He credited this for bringing up his grade point average.
"Start early to develop your grade point average and find a mentor," he said.
Acuña said when still living in the Valley he heard Ford Motor Company was hiring but he didn't know how to get one of these jobs he wanted. He finally was able to get an internship with Ford.
"This last summer we hired seven interns (from UTPA). Ford Motor Company has noticed our school and I am very happy that they are here to support us," he said.
Most of the panelists touted the importance of education and hard work when asked about overcoming any barriers being Hispanic might present in accomplishing one's goals.
"If you are well educated, people will respect that," Reyes said.
GEAR UP student Claudia Gutierrez, a junior at Mercedes High School, said that hearing Pardo and the panel helped her learn what it takes to be an engineer. "It takes a lot of creativity. It sounds like a real interesting job," she said.
Alex Cespedes, also a junior at Mercedes High School, said he wants to be a civil engineer and attending the Ford Student Leadership Day event inspired him to follow a career path and to stay in school.
"Thanks to my GEAR UP facilitator, Mrs. Cedillo, I was able to come to UTPA this summer and take concurrent enrollment courses," he said.
De Irela said taking part in HESTEC was a clear departure from his usual discussion in the office, which usually includes strategy, performance, objectives, market shares, customers and other topics.
"For me this is an opportunity to be more personal and share with you the experiences and prospectives that have shaped my life and career," de Irela said. "I want to show you what you can accomplish if you choose to explore a career in engineering, math and science or as I hope automotive manufacturing. I admit that I am biased, but I love cars and trucks and everything that goes into them. Everyday I feel proud that we at Ford provide to society, personal mobility in transportation as a start, but also cars and trucks that people truly enjoy and are passionate about driving."
De Irela told students he truly enjoyed walking through an assembly plant and seeing the trucks and cars roll off the assembly line, which he said makes his job worthwhile.
"There is nothing more exciting in my world than visiting an assembly plant and seeing the cars and trucks come off the line or watching a race with the winning team displaying a Ford logo or seeing a neighbor going to his or her garage with a brand new Ford. This is true for everyone at Ford from the president of our company to our line operators. We are all critical to the process and critical to the product. We are all equally devoted to this business and to our community," he said.
De Irela, who was born in Europe, has been with the Ford Motor Company for 32 years and his career has taken him to Europe, Asia and many other places around the world. He is responsible for 15 plants across Canada, U.S. and Mexico and oversees 21,000 employees from Canada, U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Mexico, who build transmissions, engines and castings that are used in Ford Motor Company products.
"We are truly diverse and we also have diverse interests and educational backgrounds, but we share one common goal to work to contribute as equals and to give our company a great benefit to improve products and services," de Irela said about his employees.
De Irela, whose parents were exiled from Europe as a result of World War II, said he has a Rio Grande Valley connection as his father came to the U.S. through Brownsville.
During his presentation, de Irela shared with students four tips to success that helped shape and mold his career to what it has become today. De Irela told students to find their passion, be aware, give back to the community and seize the opportunities.
"Your passion for something will drive you to work harder, take greater risks and achieve more. Finding your passion may be a lifetime search or it can be like a lightning bolt. If you have that moment, that lightning bolt in your life, consider yourself lucky. My passion is to lead people in manufacturing, but it took me years to discover this about myself. So if you don't know what to do with your life, you are in good company and don't get discouraged;just keep searching."
He also told students to never stop learning and to follow the four principles of effective leadership - honesty, trust, special treatment for all and courage.
"There are great opportunities for young people in the fields of math, science and engineering and manufacturing. Could this be your passion? Is this part of what you see when you look inside yourself? Can you be a leader in this important field and finally, are you ready to give back?" he said. "Look around you, look at the fellow students who are here today. I have no doubt that your participation in this conference will change you in some way."
Ford Motor Company and the Ford Motor Company Fund are also sponsoring other events during the remaining four days of HESTEC Week. On Wednesday, Sept. 29 Texas Instruments will sponsor Latinas in Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Day on the UTPA campus.