Nearly 1,000 middle school and high school GEAR UP students visited The University of Texas-Pan American during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week's Student Leadership Day Sept. 29.
Students were introduced to a wide range of career opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields during the eighth annual event that started with a presentation by noted ocean explorer and scientist Dr. Robert Ballard. Ballard, one of the most accomplished deep-sea explorers, is best known for his historic discovery of the sunken R.M.S. Titanic. During his long career he has conducted more than 120 deep-sea expeditions using the latest in exploration technology, and he is a pioneer in the early use of deep-diving submarines. Ballard explained to students how he was captivated by walking along beaches and learning about the tides when he was younger.
"When I was growing up, I fell in love with the ocean, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. Most of the things that I have learned were driven by my passion to be an explorer," Ballard said. "Your generation will explore more of earth than all previous generations combined." He told students that he is able to explore depths of the ocean that no one else has discovered on his ship the Nautilus.
"All my life I've been able to go out into the bottom of the ocean and explore places that have never been seen before by another human being," he said.
He explained that there are better maps of Mars available, than of Earth, since 72 percent of our planet is under water and 99.9 percent of that area has never been seen by humans. Ballard also told students about the 10-foot worms and large clam-like creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean floor, as well as the 400 different species of sea life he and his research team documented.
"There were creatures living in total darkness and duplicating photosynthesis in the dark - a process known as chemosynthesis," Ballard said. "Everything I've been telling you was not in any of the textbooks when I was your age. So remember, science is a work in progress. We just made a major discovery of a whole new life system living on our planet that is now reshaping NASA's strategy in outer space."
Students also participated in interactive breakout sessions conducted by State Farm Insurance, JP Morgan Chase, Northrop Grumman, Marathon Oil, Motorola, H-E-B, Raytheon and the U.S. Navy where they learned about developing leadership skills, and had the opportunity to speak with the representatives about career options in STEM fields.
Sixteen-year-old Benjamin Camacho from Porter High School in Brownsville, Texas said he enjoyed the encouraging message the professionals spoke about during the breakout sessions, and learning about the different career options available within the STEM fields.
"They told us to stay in school and that we could be successful. We can accomplish our dreams and we can do what we want in life and make something of ourselves," Camacho said.
Catherine Darnell, a junior at Zapata High School in Zapata, Texas, said she enjoyed coming to HESTEC's Student Leadership Day because she was able to meet new friends. Darnell said the breakout sessions were really helpful because they offered job interview tips and career advice. "They told us to stay motivated and to have faith in ourselves," she said. "They also encouraged us to be a leader and to continue our education."
Darnell, who wants to be an aerospace engineer and work for NASA, said being part of GEAR UP and attending HESTEC gave her an advantage over her peers.
"I'm so glad I was given the opportunity to come here today. I've learned so many new things," she said. Rear Admiral Albert Garcia, who currently serves as a program manager for leading engineering consulting firm AMEC Earth and Environmental Services, gave the luncheon keynote address and talked to the students about leadership and his engineering career with the U.S. Navy.
"Leadership is not about being in charge or being the boss," Garcia said. "Leadership is about taking charge of yourself. For you to be a good leader, you have to be in charge of your dreams, career, and aspirations, as well as knowing what your passions are and what you're good and what you're not good at."
Studying science and technology at a young age became Garcia's passion.
"I wanted to build things. I wanted to be the guy that thought of the bridge or building, or built the race car," he said.
As a young boy growing up in South Texas, he was a first-generation college student whose college education was paid by the U.S. Navy.
"The Navy offered me a chance and I was lucky enough and I took it," he said. "The Navy paid for me to go back and get my master's and doctorate degrees. Those were all very significant milestones in helping me pursue my engineering career."
He told students that an engineering career is one of the most promising careers of our time.
"Engineering is a job of the future. That's a job where you can go anywhere or change fields. You will always have a job and you'll always be able to find some excitement in life," Garcia said.
Students also heard from youth motivational speaker Gabe Salazar who through the use of humorous skits and real-life illustrations challenged and encouraged the students to make positive choices in their lives.
HESTEC will continue Wednesday, Sept. 30 with Latina Day.
To view a photo gallery of Student Leadership Day go to http://ur.utpa.edu/video/watch/203d84484640fd29168.
For more information on HESTEC events, go to http://hestec.utpa.edu.