More than 1,500 students, business and community leaders got to participate in an historic moment Thursday, Sept. 27 at the sixth annual Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Rising to the podium on the fourth day of a weeklong event to encourage young students to pursue higher education and the study of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, the first female U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi became the first to visit the campus in its 80-year history.
"I'm here to tell you how important what you are doing is to the security, economic strength, the health and well being, and preservation of the beautiful environment of our country. Science is the key," she said.
Both Hinojosa and Pelosi talked about the Innovation Agenda, a number of proposals introduced by Pelosi to keep America competitive and number one in the world. Among those proposals is granting scholarships aimed at producing 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the next four years, increasing research and development spending, and seeking alternative-energy sources that lessen America's reliance on foreign oil.
"It is very important that as we go forth with any science agenda that we do so involving all the children of America. This region, because of HESTEC, has become a hotbed, a place that reverberates, that we hear across the country - a leader for the future," she said.
Echoing comments earlier in the week by national corporate heads and business leaders at a HESTEC Science Literacy Roundtable, she said there is a need to reach students at an even younger age today.
"As we try to create a new economy we want to reach down to young, younger and younger. We want to make science hip so that kids think that's something I would like to do because it is so very, very important. We don't want any underutilized intellectual resources of young people who could be in this field if they knew of the opportunities that were there," Pelosi said.
Pelosi also discussed other legislation that was of particular interest to South Texans.
She said President Bush will sign a bill that will be the biggest package of tuition assistance for higher education in the country since the GI bill was passed in 1944. The bill cuts interest rates on student loans by half and increases the availability of Pell Grants.
"Education is key to personal success, key to innovation and key to competitiveness for our country," she said. "All students must have opportunities to achieve their highest potential."
Pelosi also reaffirmed her strong commitment to pass the DREAMS (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would provide a path to legal citizenship for immigrant students.
Her comments ended with a reaffirmation of the promise she made her first day as speaker.
"That we see what we do there (in Congress) through the prism of children - making the future better for them," she said.
- ROBOTICS DAY COMPETITION -
Lupita Vasquez, a biology teacher at Brownsville Porter High School, accompanied five of her female ninth grade students to HESTEC's Robotics Day to support them as they participated in the solar model car competition.
Vasquez said she hoped the lessons she taught them in class would help them strategize during the competition.
"I went through the scientific method with them which makes them think critically and be spontaneous," she said. "I think that will help them because robotics involves a lot of problem solving."
Vasquez said she was very impressed with her students who constructed a solar-powered model car in only two hours, with merely guidance from a mentor.
"I think females have a lot of potential that is often not recognized," she said. "These five girls did this complex activity all by themselves."
Emmanuel Godinez, a sophomore majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics at UTPA, served as Porter High School's mentor throughout the competition.
"We got to know each other first so I could find out their potential and then I just guided them along," he said. "Everything came together because they worked really well as a team."
Godinez said he was impressed by the talent that the students possessed at such a young age.
"Their abilities are so great," Godinez said. "They are only ninth graders. Imagine what they are going to be capable of when they are seniors or when they get to college. They are going to do great things."
"It was so exciting when we started working on it. It was such a challenge because we've never done anything like this before," Sandoval said. "Toward the end we were panicking to try to finish, but it was so thrilling. I felt so many emotions, it's hard to explain."
Sandoval said they designed their car - which they named "CRENJV," after the first initial in each of their names - to resemble a motorcycle with one wheel on the front.
"This activity took a lot of determination. We had to think on our feet," she said. "We had to be very creative and that helped."
Robotics Day wrapped up with a competition where the teams raced the cars across a finish line to test their engineering ingenuity.
Donna High School took first place and each of the six freshmen on the team received a laptop computer to help with their educational endeavors.
- EXXONMOBIL CHAIRMAN and CEO -
The chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Corporation Rex W. Tillerson showed his support for HESTEC by serving as a keynote speaker during Robotics Expo Day. Tillerson, discussed his road to success in the energy industry, and also encouraged the youngsters to become part of a new generation of scientists and engineers in the country.
"Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week provides a unique and valuable opportunity to focus on the important contribution Latino students can make to strengthen the United States' leadership as an innovation nation," Tillerson said.
Tillerson, who earned a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and started his career with Exxon Company, U.S.A. in 1975 as a production engineer, told students that Hispanics make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, but only three percent of U.S. scientists and engineers.
"Hispanics represent only three percent of U.S. scientists and engineers, and this is a situation that we must change. That is why HESTEC is such an important event and it is why I am here today," he said.
"Our industry and our country need good scientists and engineers with the right skills and values so that we can compete in today's highly competitive world economy. A solid education, and a strong ethic are great equalizers in allowing you to open the doors that would otherwise be closed to you," he said.
To conclude his visit, Tillerson visited with high school students during the robotics competition.
HESTEC Week continues Friday, Sept. 28 with the College Students Career Expo at the UTPA Fieldhouse from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. More than 85 companies are expected to participate and more than 2,000 students will attend.
For more information on HESTEC, call 956/381-3361 or visit www.hestec.org.