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Ford steers students to higher education paths
By University Relations
381-2741
Posted: 09/27/2005
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Ford Motor Company wants to put Rio Grande Valley students in the driver’s seat of life by helping steer them to careers in math, science and engineering through their support of Student Leadership Day during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.

More than 1,200 students from Valley GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) schools were encouraged by top Ford executives, engineers, and the designer of the Ford GT to map a course in life to higher education Sept. 27.


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UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, left, anxiously watches as a group of students creates a tower using sticky notes during Ford Student Leadership Day at HESTEC 2005.
Mike de Irala, Ford executive director of manufacturing and power train operations, opened the day by showing a video of the 40th anniversary edition Ford Mustang GT that revved up the young and enthusiastic crowd.

In addition, de Irala, who heads into his 32nd year with the Ford Motor Company, shared his experiences and perspectives that helped shape his life and career. In his position, de Irala is responsible for 15 plants in the United States and Mexico and oversees 21,000 employees.

During his presentation, de Irala shared with students four tips to succeeding in life, which helped him become who he is today. De Irala told students to find their passion, be aware, give back to the community and seize the opportunities.

“Your passion for something will drive you to work harder, take greater risks and achieve more. Finding your passion may be a lifetime search or it can be like bolt of lightning. If you have that moment, that lightning bolt in your life, consider yourself lucky and pursue that passion with all you have. For most people it is not that easy,” de Irala said. “My passion is to lead people in manufacturing, but it took me years to discover this about myself. So if you don’t know what to do with your life, you are in good company. Don’t get discouraged, just keep searching because finding your true passion and discovering your calling makes both your life and work very enriching.”

De Irala encouraged students to keep learning because there is always something new to learn in life. He said even now he finds he always learns something new on the job.

“Henry Ford once said ‘Anybody who stops learning is old whether at 20 or at 80 and anyone who keeps on learning stays young,’” de Irala said.


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Mike de Irala, executive director of manufacturing and power train operations for Ford and keynote speaker for HESTEC’s Ford Student Leadership Day, poses with a group of GEAR UP students at the Fieldhouse Sept. 27.
Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president, thanked the South Texas students for participating in the event and opening their minds to the world of math, science and engineering and also Ford Motor Company for their generous support.

“At UTPA, we believe you will lead. You are the great hope not only of the Rio Grande Valley, but of the state of Texas and the United States of America,” Cárdenas said. “There is a company in this country that believes the same thing and that is the Ford Motor Company. That’s why over the past two years they have become as excited about your future as we are.”

In addition, Cárdenas gave a big thanks to other sponsors and participants including Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments, Boeing and others.

Camilo Pardo, chief designer in Ford’s Living Legends Studio and creator of the 2005 Ford GT, a modern reincarnation of Ford’s GT40 classic racecars of the 1960s, made his second appearance at HESTEC and presented a multimedia presentation detailing the inspiration, design and development of the concept car that has become the “world’s best sports car” he said.

“It is quite exciting to see something you worked on appear in a television commercial. It puts all your hard work in everybody’s hands,” Pardo said.

“I am more than happy to tell you what it takes to work on something like this and let you know if you have goals and you reach for them things can be possible.”

An inspirational panel session featuring Ford Motor Company, Texas Instruments (TI) and Lockheed Martin employees offered students a glimpse of the broad range of career options available in three of the nation’s top companies, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to get there.

Panelists included de Irala; Olga Vargas-Lester, TI state policy manager; Manny Sanchez, systems engineer for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company; and Aaron Acuña, Ford electrical engineer. Acuña, who is currently working on the electrical systems team for the new Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr vehicles that will be released for sale this fall, participated in HESTEC as a senior in high school, received an engineering degree from UTPA and came back to share his experiences as a lead recruiter for Ford.


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Camilo Pardo (right), chief designer of Ford Motor Company’s Living Legends Studio, signs autographs for students after his keynote lunch address during HESTEC’s Ford Student Leadership Day.
“You have to be willing to take the steps necessary (to succeed) and if you are willing then you can do anything,” he said, as he told students about his decision to move away from his family by accepting a job offer in Michigan. “With opportunities, you have options and doors will open for you if you take those opportunities.”

Sanchez said living life as an optimist and making the right choices allowed him to both free the “engineer inside” him and pursue his love of airplanes.

“Life is full of challenges and choices,” he said. “I chose me. I chose life – a better life. I know my limits. My limits are the horizon – they’re limitless. You’ve got to dream because dreams are where it’s at. Follow your dreams.”

Vargas-Lester told students not to let fear get in the way of their dreams and encouraged students to develop an interest for learning while pursuing an education.

“Learning does not end with school and I hope you develop a love for lifelong learning,” she said. “There is no good or bad luck in life, only good or bad effort.”

Students also had the opportunity to hear from some of the nation’s top executives at the Ford Student Leadership Day Panel Session held in the Fine Arts Auditorium during a HESTEC. The line-up of speakers included Pardo; Maru Flores, manager, Ford Motor Company Information Technology Competency Development Centers; Frank Flores, supervisor, Body CAD Electrical, Restraints and Illustrations, Product Development Center, Ford Motor Company; and Art Rosales, director, Americas Program, Boeing Satellite Systems.

Moderated by UTPA senior Robert Carreon, an electrical engineer major who will graduate in December, the session allowed each speaker to share their educational and work experiences with the students followed by a question/answer session.

Pardo, a New York native who graduated from the College of Creative Studies with a degree in industrial design, said he had an early interest in drawing and painting as well as a fascination with the power cars of the 60s, attracted by their graphically-interesting design and high horsepower. His career with Ford that began in 1985 came out of the love of both.

“Look for the things you enjoy and see if you can make a living out of it,” Pardo advised the students in finding a career which can be both financially rewarding as well as personally satisfying.

In her position at Ford, Maru Flores is responsible for developing core competency strategies to strengthen supervisor and information technology employee relationships. Developing an early interest in computers in the late 1970s, she obtained a degree in management information systems from the University of Arizona. In a career that started 20 years ago as a computer systems programmer at a plant in her small hometown in Mexico, Maru Flores has worked internationally helping to develop a common IT system across Latin America and is at the forefront of developing other global strategies for the company.

She said her earliest influences came from her close knit, traditional family, particularly her father, who stressed the importance of a good education.

“My father told me ‘there are a lot of opportunities out there so make the choices in your life to lead you to that path,'” she said. She told the students that her lifetime winning strategy has been to realize that learning does not stop when you leave college. “Learning has to be a part of your everyday life for the rest of your life,” she said, noting this is particularly important for employees in technology fields.

One year from retirement after a 39-year career at Ford, Frank Flores said his continual pursuit of advanced education and keeping pace with current technology helped him to excel through a succession of job advancements from his initial position as a draftsman doing manual drawings of product layouts for Ford.

Frank Flores now supervises 24 employees and has worked with many of the company’s expert design teams and has particular experience in the development of dynamic sealing systems. In the last six years he said his work with the Ford Hispanic Network Group, which allows him to represent Ford at functions such as HESTEC, has given him an opportunity to meet senior Ford managers and to motivate and encourage students.

He told students to stay on track by first urging them to finish high school. He also stressed the importance to students of “giving back to the community” by becoming involved in community and charitable organizations.

The only non-Ford panelist at the session, Rosales started his career in 1971 as an aerodynamicist at McDonnell Douglas Corporation after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his current job at Boeing, Rosales directs the Americas Program for Boeing Satellite Systems, the world’s largest manufacturer of geosynchronous communication systems satellites and a major provider of space systems, satellites and payloads for national defense, science and environmental applications.

Rosales said he grew up in the South Bronx in New York City, where the highest measure of success was “to stay out of jail and don’t get arrested.” He said the way his family dealt with this environment was to keep him close at home. However, he was attracted to “expanding his horizons” and in high school joined many organizations and participated in sports, which he said helped him grow up. He encouraged students to look for opportunities to expand their horizons.

When he was young, he said his school counselors did not recommend his pursuing of a higher education at a premier college but he found moral and financial assistance to attend MIT from a Hispanic advocacy group, which helped him locate the scholarships he needed to attend.

“You shouldn’t let economics get in the way in the pursuit of your education,” Rosales told the students. He said there were many organizations and programs to help them finance their educations. Rosales said although he started as an engineer, he discovered a talent of taking his knowledge of engineering and organizing and presenting it in a way that people could understand.

“In addition to your studies in math and science, put effort in developing your communication skills. It will help you in the professional world,” he said.

Another skill he recommended students work on their abilities to work in teams, a skill, he said, is now required to be successful in corporate America. Marcos Sierra, a GEAR UP student and senior from Santa Rosa High School, said his favorite part of the day was attending the panel sessions and hearing testimony about what he could achieve in life.

“They told us about their background and they came from pretty much the same background that we come from, so we can look at them as an example and look forward to being as successful as they are,” he said. “Maybe one day we can be up there and tell our stories to people who are in the position that we’re in.”

GEAR UP student and senior Araceli De Leon from Pace High School in Brownsville, Texas, said the session helped her decide she wanted to pursue a career in international business and what she has to do to reach her goal.

“I learned that a GPA is important, but it’s not the only thing people look for,” she said. “I haven’t really been making good grades in school, but after today I want to get on the ball and get back on track.”