Second day of HESTEC focuses on student leadership
Posted: 09/25/2007
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Ninth graders from high schools across the Rio Grande Valley were the guests of honor for Student Leadership Day at Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week at The University of Texas-Pan American Tuesday, Sept. 25.

HESTEC Week's second day, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, brought more than 1,200 students to the UTPA campus to learn about the importance of graduating from high school and pursuing a higher education, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - a primary goal of HESTEC, now in its sixth year.

Pictured from left to right are Eduardo Reyes, José Casas and Bernabe Reyes, ninth grade students at La Villa High School, who participated in the tower building challenge - an activity which kicked off HESTEC Student Leadership Day.
Students started off the morning constructing towers with straws and pipe cleaners, as they geared up to hear from UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale and Jason Ryan Dorsey, the most sought after young motivational speaker in the country.

Sale's energetic presentation showed students how technology such as TVs, cell phones, and computers has progressed and improved throughout the years and encouraged students to pursue opportunities that would allow them to be part of the evolving technologies of the future.

"Someone like you was responsible for creating all of the technological items I just showed you," he said. "Know that you are capable of working on things like that in the future."

Texas native Dorsey, who authored his first book at age 18 and has appeared on the "Today Show," "The View," "20/20," as well as in numerous other national publications, shared the hilarious story of his life growing up as the short kid who was always picked on by bullies, and how he came to be the success he is today. Inspired by his tenth-grade teacher to pursue a college education, Dorsey shared how he put his abilities to use and relied on persistence and perseverance to help him reach his goals. "The secret to being accepted into college is that you have to apply," he said. "The more places you apply, the better your chances are to get in."

Dorsey also encouraged students to think positively and work hard for their goals, despite the fear of failure that is inherent in most people.

"Some people think 'If I never try, then I never fail.' But that's not true, because you fail yourself," he said. "Don't make excuses because excuses give away your power!"

He concluded his presentation by encouraging students to be confident in their abilities and their personal strengths.

"When it comes to leadership or going to college, it's not how smart you are that counts, it's what you do with what you have," he said. "Life may not be fair and it may not be easy. But, if you want an education bad enough, you have the ability to make it happen."

Edinburg High School GEAR UP coordinator Yvonne Johnson accompanied 13 freshmen from her school to Student Leadership Day. She said the day gave her students an opportunity to be exposed to the college-going culture. Her students particularly enjoyed the message given in the morning session by Dorsey.

"He was very age appropriate. The students laughed and enjoyed the content. He sent the message home that you are in total control of your future. That was very powerful," Johnson said.

One of her students Servando Andrade said he was inspired by Dorsey and learned a lot from the speakers.

"I learned that if you really want to do something, you have to go for it," he said.

Valley students were treated to breakout sessions that offered hands-on activities and presentations from major corporations such as Ford, Kraft Foods, Raytheon and other companies and organizations during Student Leadership Day.

Jason Dorsey, one of the most sought after young motivational speakers in the country, delivered the morning keynote at Student Leadership Day.
Mission High School ninth grader Danny Villarreal said he enjoyed the activities and motivational speakers offered to Valley students, and was inspired to be a better student overall. Villarreal said he plans to focus more on his studies and prepare for his future.

"I'm really glad UTPA is hosting this because we have gotten to learn a lot, enjoy ourselves and also win some prizes and participate in some fun competitions," Villarreal said.

Villarreal, who participated in several breakout sessions with his classmates, said even before attending HESTEC he was interested in entering the field of math and science, now his interest has heightened after hearing from some of the presenters.

"I'm now definitely leaning toward a career in science and possibly becoming a doctor or an engineer, maybe a cardiovascular surgeon or any type of an engineer would be good," he said.

Valley native Aaron Acuña, an electrical systems engineer at Ford Motor Company, greeted students as they ended Leadership Day at a luncheon in the UTPA Fieldhouse.

A graduate of McAllen High School, Acuña earned his electrical engineering degree from UTPA. He is one of three brothers who have graduated from UTPA, with another currently studying for his degree here.

A four-year employee at Ford, Acuña will complete his master's in engineering management at the University of Michigan-Dearborn this December and plans on pursuing an MBA from the University of Michigan next fall. Acuña was recently appointed as lead electrical systems engineer for the 2009 Ford Flex program and will work in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where he will be responsible for all the vehicle's electrical components.

Before introducing the luncheon's keynote speaker, Acuña told students that he came from a large family and opportunities were limited but said he never used that as an excuse for what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"No matter what you aspire to do, if you put your mind to it you can and will do it," he said. "I challenge each and every one of you to think where you want to be in 10 years and start working on how you are going to get there."

Presenting the luncheon address was Nancy Lee Gioia, director of Ford's Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs.

Sometimes referred to as Ford's "Hybrid Queen," Gioia is leading efforts to develop and implement Ford's current and next generation of sustainable products. In addition, she oversees research, development and ultimately deployment of other sustainable mobility technologies such as hydrogen internal combustion engines and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Gioia, who received her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and her master's in manufacturing systems engineering from Stanford University, began her career at Ford in 1982 in the electronics division. After taking on positions of increasing responsibility, Gioia eventually headed up the engineering team for the 2002 Thunderbird. She went on to direct the engineering for all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury passenger cars in North America before her current assignment. In 2005 she was named one of Automotive News' "100 Leading Women in the Auto Industry."

Gioia told students she was the first in her family of teachers, construction workers and mechanics to pursue engineering, switching from wanting to be a lawyer after spending a summer internship at Ford after high school graduation.

Nancy Gioia, director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs at Ford Motor Company, talked to Rio Grande Valley students during the Sept. 25 Student Leadership Day luncheon at HESTEC.
"I went where passion took me. I worked side-by-side with some engineers and what struck me was they loved what they did. They came in every day excited about what they were doing, what they were learning and how they could do more," she said.

Through her long list of positions over the years, Gioia advised students that she was always open to change, learning and trying something new.

"The only person who will hold yourself back from what you can accomplish is yourself. If you have a dream and passion, you can do it," she said.

Reviewing many examples of changes in the world that have occurred over the years - in demographics, physiology, markets, technology, for example, Gioia suggested students look at the opportunities that change brings.

"Change elicits emotion. Sometimes its transformational, sometimes it is revolutionary. In every sense of the word it represents opportunity. Embrace it. Engineers, scientists ... leaders have opportunity when change occurs," she said, describing how some of these changes led to the development of sustainable products in the auto industry.

"Sustainability is all about making products that are compatible to the environment, economically viable and socially responsible," she said.

Following her presentation, students were able to ask questions, which ranged from what kind of grades she received while in school to what salary an engineer makes. Several students asked about what changes will occur in the cars of the future, including the possibility of hover cars.

Another breakout session featured Kraft Foods representatives Alba N. Ruiz and Manuel Sanchez, who talked to students about their experiences in being team members of one of the world's largest food and beverage companies.

"Kraft Foods is a great place to be challenged, to also grow as a person and as a career," Sanchez said.

Sanchez, a group leader in the Global Technology and Quality function of Kraft, leads a group of six scientists and engineers working in Macaroni and Cheese Brand Value for the Convenient Meals sector. He is responsible for development and maintenance of products such as Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, Canadian Macaroni and Cheese, and Oscar Mayer Lunchables. He also told students about his latest product, the Kraft Easy Mac and Cheese Cups, which his team is currently developing new flavors for.

"We want to show students that there is a whole other world out there," Sanchez said. "We hope they take chances, challenge themselves and try a technical career, and just go for it," he said.

Ruiz, who received her bachelor's in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo in December 2006, currently works at the Kraft Snacks Manufacturing facility in Fresno, Calif. as the CI engineer/manager, encouraged students to take high school courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus.

"If students are interested in math and science, they should give it a chance, research it, and talk to their counselors about what opportunities and careers are out there because a lot of people have no idea what they want to do," Ruiz said.

HESTEC continues Wednesday, Sept. 26 with Latinas Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse, where high school girls and their mothers will hear from successful and inspirational Latinas in STEM fields.

For more information on HESTEC, call 956/381-3361 or visit