Students at The University of Texas-Pan American didn't need a telescope to catch a glimpse of a star when Lance Bass arrived on campus Sept. 28, as part of Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.
Bass, a member of the pop group *NSYNC and most recently a certified cosmonaut, said he was honored to be asked to attend HESTEC and have the opportunity to address students.
Bass addressed UTPA students and the community at the Quad. Many of the 2,000 students that Bass visited with at the different HESTEC venues throughout the day, congregated there to catch another glance at Bass while enjoying free food and drinks.
"I'm here for HESTEC Week which is very important to me because I am a huge space enthusiast," Bass said. "I'm here to encourage you to stick with your goals and dreams."
One in four students in the United States is Hispanic, but only four percent are in science and engineering fields, he said.
"We need more scientists and we need more engineers from the Hispanic community," Bass said. "I would love to encourage that."
Between enthusiastic crowd members shouting "We love you Lance," Bass told the story of his preparation and training to venture into space.
At age eight, Bass' dream was to become an astronaut, but that dream was put on hiatus when he began a music career at 16. Two and a half years ago, his dream was rekindled when he was asked to train to be the youngest person to fly into space.
"The training was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my life," Bass said. "I was very dedicated because that's what I wanted to do."
Upon completion of his classes, he was certified by both the Russian Space Program and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for an upcoming mission aboard a Soyuz capsule.
"In anything in life you're going to go through obstacles," Bass said. "If you keep working at it, you're eventually going to get there. I'm still working on that dream and it's looking pretty good."
Bass said his grandfather inspired him to be an astronaut. While growing up in Mississippi, his family would drive to Florida to watch shuttle launches, he said.
"That's what really got me into wanting to be a space engineer," Bass said. "Continue to study hard in math and science. I'm telling you, that's our future. You can do anything you want to do. The future is open to all of you."
UTPA students were surprised, but delighted to see Bass on campus and listen to him speak.
"I think it was very unusual, but at the same time nice to see someone like Lance come to UTPA. It was nice to see someone who everyone looks up to and admires come here and give us some good advice, and also help us in promoting education and encouraging people to get into math and the sciences," Shaadi Khademi, a freshman majoring in biology/pre-med said. "It was really nice and cool, because here in the Valley you don't see celebrities like that."
Out of numerous entries, Eve Robledo, a 12th grade student at La Joya High School placed first and Sergio Suarez, a 10th grade student from PSJA High School, placed second. Both winners brought along classmates, teachers and school administrators to meet Bass at the International Trade and Technology Building at UTPA.
Robledo, who found out she won the contest the day before, was very surprised she won and was even more thrilled about the opportunity to talk to Bass. Robledo, who considers herself "a big fan" of Bass' said the advertisement in the newspaper prompted her to enter the contest.
"I was so glad I got to meet him. I want to major in aerospace engineering and I want to work at NASA some day, so this is really motivating," Robledo said, who was nearly speechless after meeting Bass and having her picture taken with him.
Suarez, whose mom entered him into the contest, said he and his classmates were excited to be there too.
Administrators and staff of the two selected high schools said the campuses have been enthusiastic about the win.
Bass' final stop at the University led him to the Visitors Center where he was given a special preview of the Milestones for Peace exhibit, an international art display designed to trigger public discourse about peace and encourage people to promote a culture of harmony among all nations. What began as a single stone has grown to more than 500 stones from all around the world. While many stones are artistically designed, some stones remain unaltered and are signed by celebrities, kings, presidents and spiritual leaders. After touring the exhibit and learning about the history of the project, Bass signed a stone.
"I think it (signing the stone) is a huge honor," Bass said. "The people who have signed these stones have been amazing world leaders. I just want to do my part and help carry on the peace."