Thursday, June 27, 2019
Environmental engineering student Manwinder Uppal was eager to get involved in the IDEA Center before she even arrived on campus. The summer before her freshman year, she saw that IDEA hosted a summer engineering program to orient new students to campus and share some tips to make the coursework a bit easier.
“Neither of my parents and none of my family members had gone to college so that was something that I needed,” Uppal said. “I got super excited and thought ‘Yay, an intro to college life!’ As soon as I came to campus I got lost for two hours, so it was good that we had an intro week.”
Since then, she’s participated in skills workshops run by IDEA on things like the python programming language, and was part of the JUMP mentoring program. She also branched out on campus, finding community through the Raza Resource Centro and Women’s Center, and encourages other students to do the same.
“I wish I knew more or went to the Women’s Center and Raza Resource Centro a lot more, because I basically live there now,” she said. “That whole area is really student oriented. When I did have way too much of an overwhelming situation going on with school or something I could talk to one of those advisors easily so it made it homey. That’s what solidified home away from home for me.”
She’ll be working for a year while deciding how best to accomplish her goal of making an impact through sustainable design.
Tania Vazquez learned a lot at UC San Diego—about engineering, and about her approach to life. A first generation college student, Vazquez spent most weekends her freshman year driving back home to Riverside because she missed her family and didn’t feel at home on campus. At one point, she considered transferring to a school closer to home.
Encouragement from her fellow IDEA Scholars and program director Gennie Miranda to stick it out one more year helped her find her place, and learn the importance of channeling fear.
“I realized that a lot of other people had the same fear I had too,” Vazquez said. “I learned that you have to do things even if you don’t quite feel ready for it.”
She pushed herself to get involved with the Humanas Unidas group on campus, even serving as social chair.
“That was the whole point of pushing my boundaries, because I’m not a very social person, but I decided OK I’m going to go for the position that makes me the most uncomfortable.”
She ended up learning a lot and actually enjoying it. She got involved in outreach activities, and dove head first into classes and projects. By her second year, she felt more comfortable on campus, and was sticking around for more weekends.
She said the IDEA Scholars program helped her find her footing and community on campus.
“It helps you make friendships I think, which makes the process a lot easier. If it weren’t for the IDEA program I don’t know if I would have stayed.”
She encourages students who find themselves where she as just a few years ago to remember that they are qualified to be here and belong here.
Ricardo Rueda was really good at math and physics growing up, but had always thought about becoming a doctor one day. After learning about the intersection of engineering and medicine in high school, he was hooked on bioengineering.
“I started learning about the intersection between engineering and medicine-- it seemed so scifi to me, the things that were going on. It was amazing and I wanted to be part of that,” Rueda said.
A first generation college student from a border town on the Rio Grande in Texas, Rueda was accepted into UC San Diego’s bioengineering department—the 2nd best in the country—and set off down a path that would include research in two professors’ labs, launching a company that provides in-home health monitoring through AI, and a plan to work in the biosensor industry after graduation.
He credits the first step of that process to being an IDEA Scholar.
“IDEA honestly kick started my whole research experience,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do research, and they helped me kick start that passion through the JUMP mentorship program. My mentor had an opening in the bioengineering lab she worked in, so that’s where I started off my research.”
After a year and a half of working in Professor Robert Sah’s Cartilige Tissue Engineering Lab, Rueda’s interests moved more towards bioelectronics. When an opening in Professor Joseph Wang’s Nanobioelectronics lab came up, he jumped at the chance.
Rueda worked on sensing glucose through sweat, and helped develop a microneedle system to deliver targeted drugs for cancer therapy. He plans to work in industry on similar types of bioelectronics systems after graduation.
In addition to the IDEA Center’s mentorship program, Rueda worked as a peer educator for IDEA’s Education Learning Communities, leading weekly review sessions for physics courses, and said IDEA’s summer program was hugely beneficial, as well.
“It kick starts you with a group of people that are in the same vibe. They all have a passion to excel and having this group of people to grind through difficult engineering courses makes a huge difference. It’s helped me build a great network and incredible friendships.”
Rueda’s advice for students is to embrace asking for help.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask questions,” he said. ”There are many positions to fill and opportunities to take advantage of on this campus. Sometimes half of the effort is just reaching out to the right person and even if you don’t get to that person on your first try, there will always be someone more than willing to direct you to the right place, especially at IDEA.”
IDEA Scholar Melissa Perez decided to pursue engineering on a bit of a whim.
“I always liked math, but I didn’t really know much about engineering to be honest—there wasn’t much exposure to it at my high school.”
Four years and a degree in mechanical engineering later, Perez said she made the right choice, and is excited to start a career at Collins Aerospace this summer, where she previously interned through the Jacobs School’s Team Internship Program.
Perez said the IDEA Scholars program provided her with access to valuable technical workshops and mentors, but most importantly, connected her to a community of people that pushed and supported each other throughout their undergraduate careers.
“IDEA Scholars helped because coming in I already had friends that I met through the summer program,” she said. “And I think the people I met in IDEA Scholars had similar backgrounds to me, we kind of had similar experiences. We were all in it together.”
Those similar experiences, for Perez, included starting at ground zero with engineering.
“In high school, other people had robotics clubs and classes, and my high school didn’t have any of that—I was coming in here with no knowledge. It was kind of scary, but it has to fall back on you—pushing yourself to learn these things and not being scared of saying ‘I don’t know how to do this, but let me try and learn.’”
Perez got her footing, and wound up serving as a peer facilitator for the IDEA Center’s education learning communities. She planned weekly lesson reviews for calculus, and provided students with homework and test preparation support.
She also joined Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), the electrical engineering honor society, even as a mechanical engineering.
“I really liked it because I got to meet a lot more people from different fields. My engineering friends I had before were mainly from mechanical engineering classes, but now I have a lot of electrical and computer engineering friends, too.”
Her advice to future students: get involved!
Juan Maldonado has had his eyes set on the stars since he was a young boy. Any time in the library was spent in the scifi section.
“That’s where my mind was-- the future,” Maldonado said. “I liked learning about these new technologies coming out, especially rockets. I was really interested in rockets.”
After watching SpaceX launches, and particularly the landing of the Falcon 9, Maldonado decided he wanted to work on rockets. As an aerospace engineer, he had a chance to do that through the Rocket Propulsion Lab and Triton Rocket Club. As an undergraduate, he also conducted research in Professor Nicholas Boechler’s lab.
After graduating from UC San Diego with a degree in aerospace engineering, Maldonado is pursuing a PhD in Aeronatics and Astronautics at Purdue University, while also preparing to apply to be an astronaut.
“I’ll be learning another language—probably Russian—and learning how to fly planes and things like that,” Maldonado said. “That’s something I’ve been interested in since I’ve been a little kid, was applying to be an astronaut.”
Maldonado’s decision to study at UC San Diego was largely influenced by the IDEA Engineering Center. Their overnight program “was awesome,” and the summer engineering program was really helpful, too.
“One of the big things for IDEA that I really appreciate was just getting to know other people and developing friendships with people in my major that I see all the time,” he said. “I still have those friends now which has been super awesome.”
The summer program in particular was so beneficial that he served as a peer facilitator for classes behind him.
His advice to students is to give research a try if you have the opportunity. You never know where it might take you.
“Before I did research I was pretty set on going into industry,” Maldonado said. “Whenever someone brought up grad school I was like ‘Oh nah, I don’t want to do more school,’ because I didn’t know what research was like. But once I did it I fell in love with it-- having to come up with creative solutions, the whole process of doing research. That’s what convinced me to go to grad school-- I didn’t know I wanted to do that until doing research just last summer.
IDEA Scholar Jasmine Chiang wasn’t sold on electrical engineering when she first learned about the field—it seemed like a lot of chips. But when she found out that electrical engineering underpins how all forms of electronic communication happen, she was hooked.
“All wireless information being sent, all of that needs to be done through signal image processing, and that’s my specialization now,” Chiang said. “It’s such an important part of our lives, to be able to have signals processed efficiently so we can actually send them in wireless communications.. I want to ensure that the technology for people to communicate around the world and even to outer space continues to be revolutionized.”
After graduation, Chiang will return to UC San Diego in the fall to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a focus on signal image processing to make that happen.
“When I first learned about signal image processing I was thinking about its use in music—a lot of it requires filtering and understanding of signal processing,” Chiang said. “So I was honestly hoping I could pursue that. But I recognize now that I’m taking all these classes and meeting all these people and realizing there’s so much more I can do. I’m hoping a masters will help me narrow it down and focus in on what I want to be pursuing as a specific job.”
In addition to being an IDEA Scholar, Chiang was involved in the IDEA Center’s JUMP mentor program and was a peer facilitator at the Summer Engineering Institute for two summers, after experiencing how beneficial the program was.
“I knew when I did my summer program, back when it was Summer PrEP, that I really wanted to be a leader for future classes to inspire them to stay in engineering.”
She also studied abroad at King’s College i London, and was vice president external of the ECE Undergraduate Student Council and was on the ECE Day committee board in joint with the other ECE student organizations.
For mechanical engineering student Cindy Ayala, the IDEA Center and IDEA Scholars program knew what she needed before even she did.
“Through the Summer Engineering Institute, they gave us resources before we knew we needed them,” Ayala said. “In the same way, they gave us mentors before we knew what questions to ask. But then when the questions started to come up, we knew where to go and what resources to look for.”
For Ayala, those questions centered around graduate school.
“I was leaning towards going into industry when I first got here and didn’t think I’d be applying to graduate programs my freshman year, but as I got further along I realized how cool it is to be able to do research at a university,” Ayala said.
She’s starting a joint PhD program in bioengineering through UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco this fall.
To be fair, Ayala did get to do some pretty cool research. She worked in Professor Joanna McKittrick’s lab her freshman year, and then conducted research for Professor Juan Carlos Lasheras, studying how cells migrate in 3D spaces. For her senior design project, Ayala and her teammates developed an automated blood smear system in collaboration with the UC San Diego Medical School, to make it easier to analyze patients’ blood samples.
Her advice to students?
“There are so many resources available through the IDEA center,” Ayala said. “There’s always scholarship opportunities, events and such a large network of mentorship. It’s this very large network of people there to help you.”
Jose Manuel Rodriguez knew he wanted to be an engineer since he was a young boy. He grew up helping his dad fix things around the house, and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with restoring function to cars, doors, sinks etc.
“I always kind of treated school as a game,” Rodriguez said. “I was always trying to get the high scores. I didn’t like seeing anything other than an A. I liked the feeling of doing well in classes. That’s what kind of motivated me.”
A first generation college student, Rodriguez was so motivated to go to and succeed in college that he skipped his senior prom to attend the IDEA Center’s Breakfast with the Dean and learn what the Jacobs School had to offer.
“I said, ‘You know, I’d rather decide about my future than have this one night of fun. I’ll see my friends, they’ll be there. So I went to Breakfast with the Dean and Triton Day rather than go to my high school prom.”
That decision paid off. Rodriguez decided to attend UC San Diego, and is graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, having worked on jet engines and even helped restore motion to a young boy’s arms.
Rodriguez, who grew up in Fontana, was also a Chancellor’s Scholar. The scholarship funds he was awarded through that program helped relieve a lot of stress about paying for college, and allowed him to get involved in things like the Rocket Propulsion Lab, where he worked to design a biofuel jet engine.
Rodriguez said his senior design project was one of his most memorable projects and learning experiences. He and a team of three other engineering students designed a motorized brace in 10 weeks that would allow a five-year-old who has a rare virus to move his arms for the first time in three years.
“It really didn’t hit me until we were talking to the prosthetist who said ‘You’re making a really big impact in this child’s life,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like it’s really interesting the way engineering is basically the medium between science and society. You’re that medium, trying to make science practical in a way that impacts real life.
As an IDEA Scholar, Rodriguez participated in the Summer Engineering Institute—at that time a five day college preparatory program that has since been extended to a month-- which he said not only helped prepare him for classes, but helped him form a supportive community of friends on campus.
“The IDEA Scholars program really helped me because there were people that come from my background. You relate to them more. And they understand what you’re going though and you understand what they’re going through and the type of struggles they’re having as well. It helps having people to turn to who are like me.”
Rodriguez advises prospective students to not be afraid of asking questions or asking for help.
“One of the troubles I had was asking for help my first year. I’ve always been a person who went through everything alone, never had help from anybody. But then my first year I kind of struggled a bit with classes—not too much but to the point that I was frustrated that everything wasn’t clicking right away. I’d spend time trying to figure things out by myself, and as soon as I made that leap of asking questions to a TA or something-- because that was totally foreign to me, asking questions—that made such a difference. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be curious about things. Put yourself out there.”