HESTEC's Community Day draws more than 30,000 to UTPA campus
Posted: 10/13/2005
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In the biggest, most successful week in its four year history, Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week 2005 at The University of Texas-Pan American ended with more than 30,000 people attending Community Day Oct. 1. The day was filled with education, excitement, entertainment and enthusiasm - all encompassing a message for South Texas families of the importance of the pursuit of higher education and science literacy as well as the needs and opportunities in the fields of math, science, engineering, geography and technology.

One of the almost 50 corporate participants in HESTEC, Texas Instruments (TI) provided its important message for parents and children through a series of "Platicas" sessions at the UTPA Engineering Building.

The "Platicas" gave parents the chance to hear inspirational presentations from Texas Instruments engineers and representatives on how they can help improve their child's education. More than 200 parents attended four 15-minute sessions throughout the day titled "The Journey from Home to College," "Parent Advocates in Education," and "From Migrant Worker to Texas Instruments Engineer."

Children touring the Engineering Building during Community Day got acquainted with Miguel, the bilingual, interactive robot constructed for HESTEC by UTPA mechanical engineering faculty and students.
Olga Vargas-Lester, TI state policy manager, who spoke to parents during the "Parent Advocates in Education" session, told parents a high school degree is no longer good enough. Vargas-Lester said the more education their children receive, the more money they will earn, and the more choices in work and in life they will have. She said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau, a person with less than a high school education will make an average starting salary of $22,000 while an individual with a bachelor's degree will make more than $48,000 starting salary.

She encouraged parents to make their children understand that a higher education is key to living a good life.

"I think it is important that parents push their kids. There are so many distractions nowadays for kids. It is very tempting for kids nowadays to give up their education," Vargas-Lester said.

Vargas-Lester also told parents to make sure their children take the rigorous math and science courses in high school because many jobs today require a strong math background. She asked parents to talk to their children and not make education an option in their lives, but make it a priority.

Norelia Moreno of Raymondville, who attended HESTEC Community Day for the first time, said attending the TI sessions really opened her eyes to the opportunities available to the parents and youth.

"I think the sessions were great because there are a lot of things out there that kids don't know about. This is definitely an opportunity and it is being provided for free," Moreno said. "We must educate the parents so they can know what is going on and know where the help is."

While in the Engineering Building, delighted kids and adults also had an opportunity to talk to Miguel, an interactive, bilingual robot who held court in the engineering lobby during the day. Dr. Hashim Salman Mahdi, chair and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the robot was modeled after one he had seen at NASA and locally designed and built by Horacio Vasquez, mechanical engineering lecturer, with assistance from Martin Cárdenas, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. Vasquez and Cárdenas, hidden from view in an area away from the lobby, were providing the maneuverings and voice of the three-foot high Miguel, who wore sunglasses, sported a green UTPA baseball hat and conversed with those brave enough to approach him.

Mahdi said they started on the robot less than a month prior to Community Day and already have plans to develop an improved version. "Perhaps he will grow up," Mahdi said of next year's robot, which he predicted will have a greater range of motion.

"This (robot) is something that hopefully the kids and community enjoy and allows undergraduate students to use theory in real life applications. They designed and tested the circuits, they obtained and put all the hardware together," he said.

In addition to guided tours of the many labs in the Engineering Building High Bay Area, where families got to view Mini Baja vehicles and various machine demonstrations, other attractions in the Engineering Building included an Einstein exhibit prepared by the mathematics department; a "bed-of-nails," from the physics department where willing participants could learn by laying down on it some important physics principles; and demonstrations in robotics by electrical engineering students and computer visualization by computer science students.

Stephanie Baker, who earned her undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Brownsville/Southmost College and is now a graduate student in math at UTPA in the Bridge to a Doctorate Program, was at Community Day explaining some of the research posters on view prepared by the 12 participants, recruited from around the United States, in that program.

"We wanted the community to see what it is that we are doing in the Bridge to the Doctorate program. Also, when the kids see the posters in all these different areas - biology, math, computer science and engineering - and they see people not that much older than them, they can see themselves in this same position in a few years and hopefully it will inspire some of them to pursue the same types of careers," she said.

Several children participate in the NASA Mars exhibit during Community Day as a replica of the Mars rover makes its way across their backs.
A steady line of curious Community Day attendees also toured the NASA Mobile Aerospace Education Laboratory, a traveling exploratory lab that included a flight simulator, and viewed an array of exciting exhibits from NASA, Boeing, and Ford Motor Company, among others housed in the University Fieldhouse. One of the most popular places to be was lying in the NASA exhibit booth as a down-sized replica of a Mars explorer rolled over groups of possible future explorers of the red planet.

Pauline Rocha, a Donna ISD teacher/reading coach, and her husband Rob, assistant pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Weslaco, brought their son Robbie, a seventh grade student at Harwell Middle School in Edinburg, and his friend to Community Day and said they particularly enjoyed the NASA exhibit.

Pauline said she felt it was important to expose children at the earliest ages about the importance of higher education.

"This event shows that there is life after high school and the importance of a college education and knowing that math and science are important subjects. It is important for them (students) to know that there is more to NASA, for example, than just being an astronaut. The world of science and engineering is huge," she said.

Her son Robbie, who was one of 20 selected from his school to participate in HESTEC's Geography Summit held earlier in the week, said he especially enjoyed seeing the Mars Exhibit and the land rovers. "I really want to go work at NASA and seeing this made me want to even more," he said.

In the Science Building, more than 100 community members packed one of four chemistry magic shows hosted by UTPA students and staff which featured numerous experiments showcasing fire and explosions.

Audience members got a firsthand look at what types of chemistry are studied at the University from George Herrera, laboratory technical service supervisor at UTPA, and witnessed how much fun a potentially lucrative career in chemistry could be during the chemistry department's premier magic shows.

Herrera explained how wood and other objects become more flammable when they get smaller, as more oxygen is able to reach each particle. This concept was demonstrated by blowing moss spores through a carved pumpkin, which caused an enormous fireball to come out of the face of the pumpkin. With reactions ranging from enthusiasm to astonishment, Herrera said, these particular experiments often interest all ages of people.

"These experiments are loud, they excite people, they get people scared and they realize that they can do pretty neat things that other kids don't get to do and learn about energy in a way that most people never get to know," he said. "You can drive a car, but you'll never know about how much energy is in a gas can until you see something like this. Kids see this happen and they think 'Whoa that's pretty cool.'"

A UTPA chemistry student demonstrates to more than 100 audience members how blowing moss spores through a carved pumpkin causes a fireball. The demonstration was one of many during the chemistry magic show at Community Day.
Other demonstrations included analyzing bulletproof plastics, watching glow-in-the-dark chemicals and making polyester. The experiments concluded with several "bangs" when balloons containing various mixtures of fuels and oxygen were lit on fire.

"Chemistry is not particularly popular because it's difficult. It's a completely different language - it involves physics, math and all of the things people traditionally think are pretty tough. Unfortunately the only way we can get kids interested is at an early age, which is why these demonstrations are so important," he said, noting the department plans to take the show on the road to local school districts.

Sylvia Lorenzen and her daughter Alejandra, from Mission, attended the magic show and were impressed with the UTPA students and faculty.

"I brought my daughter who likes to study science and math. She really loved the exhibition. It was so easy for kids to understand," Lorenzen said.

HESTEC Week 2005 also presented a preview to the Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) that will take place in the spring on the UTPA campus. Poet and human rights activist Marjorie Agosín - professor of Spanish at Wellesley College - spoke to nearly 100 students, faculty and staff and read excerpts from her poetry at the Student Union Theater during Community Day's taste of the FESTIBA event planned for March 2006.

Agosín spoke about human rights and the power of language during her presentation titled, "Writing towards hope."

One of her most famous books titled "Dear Anne Frank," is a collection of bilingual poems about Frank - a Jewish victim of Nazi persecution during World War II. Agosín explained how her poetry offers a means of communication for the oppressed.

"A poem is more than air - it's engagement and commitment," she said. "My poetry has become a voice for what is shattered. Only when you remember do you give voice to what is lost."

As the author of numerous poetry books focusing on Latin American dictatorships and the Holocaust, Agosín said the role of the poet is to speak about what is forbidden, but to speak about it with eloquence, dignity and truth.

"Poetry is intimate, historical and political. The great tragedy of our time is that we do not read poetry. It's not because we don't understand it, but because we are afraid of what we might feel," she said. "Don't be afraid to live life through art, because art is history and art is real."

Entertainment venues also wowed the crowds that spent the afternoon and evening at the campus among booths sponsored by student and other UTPA organizations serving up food, exhibits, entertainers, and health information in areas designated as Kids Land, Healthy Land, Music Land and Book Land.

Welcoming the visitors from the Main Stage entertainment area throughout the day, Dr. Rolando S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs and national chair of HESTEC Week 2005, said the primary importance of HESTEC is for "our kids to be the best that they can be."

"We have so much brain power, so many talented young people. We need to help them become well educated because with knowledge there is power," he said.

Joining Arriola on stage was UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, who told the crowd that the "University exists for you and for your families."

"We are going to lift up our community and lift up our children and make this state and this country better than it has ever been. So work with me. Make sure your kids get the courses they need. Start planning now. Say to your kids, you are going to college...and we'll be waiting with open arms," she said.

Interspersing his presentation on Chicano/a artworks in an exhibition now touring the United States with his well-known humor, actor and famed art collector Cheech Marin entertained South Texans that visited HESTEC's Community Day.
A variety of music venues had visitors of all ages swaying and singing along to the latest in popular music as well as tunes from the past. Latin Grammy-nominated groups Volumen X, a band originating in the Rio Grande Valley, and Grupo Elefante, who interrupted an international tour to travel to the Valley to play at HESTEC, played impressive sets which included their current hits. Singing a wide range of styles from the early 60s hits to popular Spanish language love songs to a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful," Grammy Award-winning and legendary star Vikki Carr ended the day's events with a show-stopping concert, where she announced the HESTEC appearance was her first in "going back on the road."

When actor, director, humanitarian and famed Chicano art collector and enthusiast Cheech Marin, of "Cheech and Chong" movie fame took the stage, he quipped, "I don't know if I am closing for Elefante or opening for Vikki Carr."

Marin showed slides from an art exhibition he developed now touring the United States titled "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge," featuring works from 26 masters of Chicano/a painting, predominately from Marin's personal collection, including Carlos Almaraz, Carmen Lomas Garza and Margaret Garcia to name a few. The exhibition, scheduled to tour 15 cities in five years, will open next at the University of Houston-Downtown Oct. 21 and run through Dec. 23.

Interspersing information about each work and its artist with quick jokes, Marin, who said he was self educated in art at an early age, displayed an unabashed enthusiasm for Latino artists' ability of "putting the paint on" likening it to the response to musicians that can "really play."

At a press conference held prior to his show, Marin said besides encouraging appreciation of Latino culture and art, much of his charitable efforts have gone to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

"Education is the single, most important element in anybody's life in order for you to move forward, to have mobility and choices and to give back to the community," he said, citing the parable that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Marin described the exhibition tour and his role as a popularizer of the Chicano School of Art, which he said is not characterized by a particular style like impressionism but by each individual artist's experience of what it was to be Chicano/a, is one of the high points of his life. He said he wanted Hispanics to have a "feeling of pride" upon seeing the exhibition.

"It is a big turning point when you go into major museums across the United States and see pictures of your culture hung on the walls. It means you are included and the doors aren't barred to you anymore. My goal is getting us to recognize that we are now part of the mainstream," Marin said, noting with the realization of Latino power is the question of how it will be used to better the country and world. "I want to leapfrog Latino expectations," he said.

As Community Day ended, Cárdenas declared the day "absolutely perfect" and praised the community for providing a record attendance. For more information on HESTEC, a year round program initiated by UTPA and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) to encourage interest in the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, log on to