When Maricela Lizcano decided to put her strong math and science skills to use by returning to college and majoring in mechanical engineering, she chose The University of Texas-Pan American because it was close to home and affordable.
What delightfully surprised the Edinburg native once she began her studies were the high-quality education and innovative resources she had in her own backyard.
"The student-to-faculty ratio to begin with was small, so you had very caring, dedicated, excellent professors who were able to connect with students," said Lizcano who earned her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2004 and her master's in mechanical engineering in 2006 from UTPA. "Secondly this fantastic state-of-the-art facility Dr. Karen Lozano has. I have traveled to the different labs throughout the country and hers is just as state of the art... I had excellent training."
Now a research materials engineer in the Ceramics Branch-Structures and Materials Division at NASA-Glenn Research Center in Ohio, Lizcano credits much of her success to the education she received at UTPA.
On April 5, Lizcano and fellow UTPA alumni shared their words of wisdom with more than 400 high school students during the University's Nurturing Education, Undergraduate Research, and Opportunities in Nanotechnology Symposium (NEURONS) 2013 to encourage them to keep improving their math and science skills and enter careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
At the event, organized by Lozano, Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor of mechanical engineering, Lozano told students to study hard and take advantage of research opportunities while they are working toward a bachelor's degree.
"There's only one thing you need to do and that one thing is called hard work," Lozano said. "That's all you need, because if you work hard, I can assure you that you will be sitting at that table."
In panel discussions, the alumni talked about their experiences and offered advice on how to pursue STEM careers and continue their education.
Lizcano, who earned her doctorate from Texas A&M University in College Station and who mentors high school students in Ohio, said she was honored to participate in the symposium and guide the teenagers on a successful path.
"They are at a very important stage in their life where they really have a lot of choices, and someone needs to guide them, and so this is a great opportunity but I would say one of the most important things for them is to start interacting with the university or looking online for programs," Lizcano said. "We really live in different economic times and the kids in the Rio Grande Valley have a unique opportunity to utilize their local resources -- and by that I mean UTPA -- as an excellent, high-quality higher education institution for doing state-of-the-art research and technology. If they take that opportunity they, too, can find themselves in fantastic jobs throughout the country like NASA."