The eyes of nearly 800 middle school students from all over South Texas were glued to the projector screens as they got a glimpse into the future during their visit to The University of Texas-Pan American Tuesday, Sept. 25.
The eighth graders, who were all on campus for Student Leadership Day at UT Pan American's 11th annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) week, were captivated by theoretical physicist and popularizer of science Dr. Michio Kaku as he described a future where people can access the Internet with the blink of an eye, have replacement organs made out of their own stem cells and be driven by their automobiles without ever touching a steering wheel.
Kaku - who also spoke during HESTEC's Educator Day and as UTPA's first Distinguished Speaker for the 2012-2013 school year the day before - told them that there are plenty of jobs available to those who have a college degree.
"If you want to partake of this future, you have to get educated," he said. "Don't wind up in a dead-end job; graduate into the future. ...The future belongs to the educated."
Many of the students said they are looking forward to wearing contact lenses that allow them to access the Internet, but they seemed hesitant about the other predicted innovations.
"I'm still going to drive my own car," said Esteban Galvan, an eighth-grade student at Brewster School in Edinburg.
The University of Texas-Pan American and the Office of U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) started HESTEC more than a decade ago to inspire young Hispanic students to enter fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Tuesday's activities were sponsored by Lockheed Martin.
Throughout the day, students participated in hands-on activities and learned about opportunities that await them once they finish college.
Chuck Villarreal, director of Production Operations, Tactical Missiles and Combat Maneuver Systems for Lockheed Martin, delivered the day's keynote address, where he told the children about his favorite equation: that everyone is who they are today because of the experiences, influences and decisions made throughout their lives.
Additionally, what they experience and decide today will influence their lives tomorrow, said Villarreal, who is a board trustee of The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation, the independent, nonprofit organization that works to benefit the institution.
"Today could be the first day you start preparing for tomorrow," he said.
Before being raised by four students using a pulley system, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen asked the students to raise their hands if they planned to pursue careers in medicine, business or engineering, and, most importantly, if they were going to college. All hands were raised in response to the last question, which pleased Nelsen.
"An education is the only thing nobody can take from you," he said.
Afterward, students watched Hollywood stuntman and special effects technician Steve Wolf perform various stunts, including the one involving Nelsen. Wolf explained to the children how he uses science to perform and create stunts and special effects.
HESTEC continues Wednesday with Latina Day, sponsored by ExxonMobil Corp. and Northrop Grumman, when several hundred middle school girls and their mothers or other female relatives will come to campus to hear from Latinas who broke barriers in STEM-related careers and achieved success.
The girls will also learn about opportunities available to them in higher education and beyond.
For more information about HESTEC activities throughout the week, visit www.hestec.org.