UTPA engineering students take first place at national competition
Posted: 12/03/2004
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A team of three female engineering students at The University of Texas-Pan American recently won first place at the 2004 Student Manufacturing Design Competition sponsored by the Manufacturing Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

The team was comprised of three UTPA engineering graduates: Azalia Lomeli, a current mechanical engineering graduate student at UTPA; Marissa Borrego, who is employed with Raytheon; and Aurora Salinas, who is self-employed.

Lomeli, Salinas and Borrego said they were surprised and excited when they found out they won.

Teammates Azalia Lomeli (left) and Aurora Salinas (right) work on one of the machines used to create the reinforced plastics for their project.
"It's an honor and it shows that we know what we are doing since a senior design project actually requires that you apply what you've learned in your four years of schooling," Borrego said. "The project covers a lot of engineering disciplines that you'd apply in real world situations."

The ASME Student Manufacturing Design Competition was created to foster interest in manufacturing, provide the manufacturing engineering community with fresh new perspectives on design, and create a forum for students to share their new and innovative ideas, according to the ASME Web site.

Results from their project titled "Design of Injection Mold and Molding Process for Nanofiber Reinforced Liquid Crystal Polymer Tensile Specimens" have already been published in scientific journals.

"We worked with plastics reinforced with carbon nanofibers, which greatly enhanced the properties of the plastics," Borrego said. "Little research has been conducted in this field, and the composites are very promising for several applications (i.e. electronics, aircraft) because they are lightweight and very strong, and in some cases conduct electricity."

The competition started in 1995 and a UTPA student first won the award in 1997. This is the first time a team of students from the University has taken the top honor and also the first time an all-female team won the competition. "There are not a lot of females in engineering, so it serves as an example and motivation to other women who are pursuing or thinking of pursuing a degree in the same field," Borrego said.

The top six teams were invited to present their projects at the 2004 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in Anaheim, Calif. Nov. 13-19, where the judges decided the rankings of the top three. Two teams from UTPA were in the top six, but only one was able to go to the conference.

Lomeli traveled to the conference and made a 15-minute presentation of the team's project to the judges and a crowd of professors by herself. Even without her teammates by her side, she said her classroom experience and training at UTPA helped her with the presentation.

"The senior design class at UTPA required us to create weekly progress reports and present them to the class," Lomeli said. "Those really helped me with the presentation."

The winning project was supervised by Dr. Subhash Bose, Beecherl professor and chair of the Department of Manufacturing Engineering, Dr. Kye-Hwan Lee and Dr. Karen Lozano, both assistant professors in manufacturing engineering.

"Winning the national-level senior design competition reflects the high quality of our engineering programs, faculty and students at UTPA," Bose said. "It is a recognition we are proud of to show the accreditation visitors who look at the quality of senior design projects since it is the capstone course."

UTPA senior design projects were selected as one of the top six projects for the final presentation three times in the past in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

As first place winners Borrego, Lomeli and Salinas will receive a $1,000 cash award, which they will divide among themselves.

When asked what the award meant for UTPA Borrego said she hoped potential students wouldn't overlook the UTPA engineering program because it is smaller and not as well-known as other schools. "This award is important for UTPA in that it will give recognition to the school," she said.