Student Speaker Series Promotes Professional Growth

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Speaking to several dozen pre-engineering underclassmen interested in internships, senior mechanical engineering major Alan Alvillar said he would break his number one rule: never tell people everything you know.

Alvillar, who has held four internships including one with Russia’s space agency and two with NASA, used self-depreciating humor and images of his work to keep the audience engaged during his Nov. 16 presentation that was part of Internships: Connections to Your Future, a successful student-led speaker series conducted this fall by UTEP’s College of Engineering.Alan Alvillar, a senior mechanical engineering student, experienced weightlessness during a research flight as a NASA intern. Photo courtesy of Alan Alvillar.Alan Alvillar, a senior mechanical engineering student, experienced weightlessness during a research flight as a NASA intern. Photo courtesy of Alan Alvillar.

Dressed in a tie and sports coat and using a delivery that could have been induced by a triple shot of espresso, Alvillar spoke about himself, his hobbies and interests, and what he has learned during his time at The University of Texas at El Paso that might help the next generation of Miners gain valuable pre-professional experiences. He said information was a valuable commodity that should be dispensed carefully among people who matter.

He stressed that students should work hard on their academics but needed to add personal initiative to create a complete package that would be valued by any employer.

“I want to be a petroleum engineer, but it’s friggin NASA,” he said about applying for and accepting the space agency’s internships. As a result, he made significant research contributions to NASA and worked with people whose passion was to change the world.

Alvillar shared other tips about grooming and general preparedness from the comical – “Take a shower” – to the serious – “Read (newspapers, periodicals and books) and be aware. Smart people like to have smart conversations.”

Every suggestion was welcomed by Kayna Mendoza, a freshman who plans to study metallurgical and materials engineering. She attended five of the six Friday afternoon sessions and appreciated every tip, especially the ones about personal preparedness. The El Paso native said she has tentative plans to work as a volunteer researcher at UTEP this summer if she does not get an internship with Lockheed Martin.

Juan Carlos Lopez, a senior mechanical engineering major, got the series started with his efforts to share what he learned as a NASA intern with several peers who in turn earned their own internships. He shared his input through entry-level classes and the University Career Center, which led to the speaker series that he coordinated.

The series brought in students from throughout UTEP’s engineering disciplines who had spent time with such industry heavyweights as British Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, and AT&T.

Gilbert Moreno, clinical professor of engineering and a series adviser, understood the possible impact of the series and encouraged Lopez to initiate it. The 1974 UTEP mechanical engineering graduate said the University of Notre Dame conducted a similar program when he was a graduate student.

The concept fit in with the college’s push to have more of its students participate in opportunities for academic and professional development outside the classroom to include national competitions, academic research and membership in national professional organizations.

“The question was, ‘How do we share the magic and get (students) to plan their own trajectory?’” Moreno asked. His answer was having students pitch to students.

The series was organized by UTEP’s Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. Its sponsors include the University Career Center, UTEP’s Student Government Association, the College of Engineering, the Entering Student Program and the Malone Engineering Leadership Program. Organizers plan to restart the series in fall 2013.