In 2004, Carlos T. Ramos Jr. was a senior at Rivera High School in Brownsville who came to HESTEC at The University of Texas-Pan American, hoping to win the first prize in the robotics competition -- a laptop computer.
Ramos' team won the competition that year successfully programming their Lego robot through a maze. When Ramos returned this year as an invited speaker to HESTEC's opening night Congressional Dinner Sept. 23, he told hundreds of corporate and government sponsors that he won more than a laptop that day seven years ago.
"HESTEC inspired me. It showed me that science is a lot of fun and that it is within our reach," Ramos said.
Ramos went on to attend UT Pan American, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor's in biology and a minor in chemistry. He is now a third-year medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Last year, Ramos was selected as one of 19 students nationwide to participate in an internship program sponsored by NASA's National Space Biomedical Research Institute, where he learned about the physical effects of spaceflight on NASA astronauts and the possibility of becoming a flight surgeon.
"I want to thank them (sponsors). Thanks to their support, I am at the place I am now and I can aspire to a better future," he said.
UT Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen was joined by U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa in also thanking HESTEC's long time and newest supporters at the kick off of HESTEC's 10th anniversary of inspiring young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Nelsen put what he called "the face" on HESTEC by describing the accomplishments of three other HESTEC alumni and expressing his gratitude for the opportunities supporters provided these and other students.
"Ten years of HESTEC, 10 years of reaching out to help students, to let them know about the possibilities that are there, possibilities that they never even dreamed of doing. Possibilities they didn't know were available because of you. You gave them that opportunity," Nelsen said.
Hinojosa initiated the program a decade ago with the University and GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), bringing in that program's middle school students and their teachers to hear speakers, see exhibits and experience hands-on activities to better engage young students in STEM. Touting its growth and its reputation among corporate leaders as a model to follow, Hinojosa said he felt like a proud father.
"It is the best thing that has ever happened in the deep South Texas. Working together we have awakened students senses to look at STEM as a career," he said. "It is very important to our country because we want to continue to be the global leaders in technology and innovation. The only way to do that is to be able to recruit the Latino young students - boys and girls."
"Thanks to everybody who puts HESTEC together we are going to have an opportunity to reach several thousand middle school students this week with NASA exhibits and information on what NASA does," she said.
During the event, which was sponsored by Marathon Oil Corporation, TXU Energy and Anheuser-Busch, the University presented its first HESTEC Pioneer Award to those companies and organizations that have contributed to the weeklong science education program since its inception in 2002.
Pioneer Award recipients included the following: AT&T, The Boeing Co., The Coca-Cola Co., H-E-B Tournament of Champions, IBM Corp., International Bank of Commerce, Lockheed Martin Corp., NASA, National Science Foundation, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Region One and UTPA Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).
UT Pan American also presented a HESTEC Star Award to companies and organizations that have provided generous and long-standing support to HESTEC and have been partners with UTPA in addressing its broader mission of facilitating educational access and student success. Star Award winners were: Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. (accepted locally by L&F Distributors), Chase, ExxonMobil Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Motorola Solutions Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp., Shell, Texas Instruments, Time Warner Cable, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas Inc. and Verizon.
Dr. Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, who attended the event said it is important to reach kids early on, particularly at middle school age when they start making decisions about courses they will take in high school.
Boeing's Arturo Rosales, director of Program Services and Execution, Space and Intelligence Systems, who recalled HESTEC's first days in the Edinburg Baseball Stadium and 15,000 students wearing Boeing shirts, said his company is interested in good employees for the future and HESTEC is a great source. He said Boeing is also interested in diversity.
"What we found over the 10 years is that the employees we get from this area are very good employees," he said.
Val La Mantia Peisen of L&F Distributors for Anheuser-Busch said HESTEC is a great way to invest in the future of young people.
"As a corporate sponsor we think everyone should be a part of something like this. It is a great investment and the University has done so much not only for the Valley but all of South Texas. They go beyond just educating youth; they actually inspire them to do better and bigger things, so we are proud to be a part of it."
HESTEC continues on Monday, Sept. 24 when 600 teachers will hear from Bill Nye, popular host of the children's science show "Bill Nye, the Science Guy" and attend a Congressional Roundtable where members of Congress, government officials, scientists and corporate executives will discuss successful strategies to encourage Hispanic students into STEM careers.
For more information about HESTEC, visit www.hestec.org.