Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15) is an opportunity to celebrate the people and culture of Spanish-speaking countries as well as the culture and people of Latin American origin/descent. Find out more about this National Heritage Month here <https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/>.

In honor of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, MEM is featuring an interview with Kelly Coca, President of Lehigh's Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE,https://lehigh.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/societyofhispanicprofessionalengineersshpe). We also hear from students, faculty, and alumni about what first interested them in mechanical engineering, advice to younger students, and what Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month means to them. Join us in celebrating these Lehigh Engineers.


Lehigh's Chapter of SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers)

1) What is the history, mission, and vision of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and Lehigh's Chapter of SHPE (LU-SHPE)?

SHPE was founded in 1974 by Rod Garcia and initially started its efforts in Southern California. Since then, SHPE has continued to empower Hispanic and Latinx students and commit to training the next generations of leaders in STEM. SHPE’s current mission statement is to “change lives by empowering the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential and to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support, and development”. SHPE has 286 chapters (Student and Professional) and over 13,000 members.

2) What does Hispanic/Latix Heritage Month mean to you?

Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month means that we get to share and celebrate our family, our culture, and our values with each other. Being Latinx gives us pride that we get the opportunity to be a majority first generation and Hispanic/Latinx students at Lehigh knowing that it’s because of the hard work and sacrifices of those that came before us that helped get us to where we are today. 

3) What do you consider some of the highlights and major accomplishments for LU-SHPE so far?

Some of the highlights and accomplishments for SHPE include strong programming for students in academic and professional development. SHPE always maintains the integrity of creating a safe space for Hispanic and Latinx students to engage, learn, and actively participate in our events while having a support system at Lehigh. Our main accomplishment is the longevity that SHPE has had on Lehigh’s campus thus far. We’ve been active for over 10 years, and we hope that the rising upperclassmen will continue to serve and lead future STEM students while representing our values of Familia, Service, Education, and Resilience.


4) Looking forward, what are some of the challenges that LU-SHPE would like to address?

Some of the challenges are maintaining on-campus support whether it’d be from faculty or other departments. A lot of times it can be difficult for students to gain internship, research, and other opportunities on and/or off campus. We want to give our members the same number of opportunities that other students may have easier access to. Organizations such as SHPE benefit immensely when there are multiple connections and relationships with university offices, departments, and faculty members as it will promote more inclusivity and spaces that will understand and support the interests and needs of students of color.


5) What advice or message would you like to send to the student community at large / RCEAS / or any other group on campus regarding LU-SHPE?

SHPE is a space where you don’t only gain lifelong personal and professional skills, but we provide you a place where you can call us your ‘Familia’ away from home. We will continue to represent the integrity and overall mission of SHPE as we make progress in developing programs for ANY student to engage in and learn from. SHPE will always advocate and provide help for those who feel underrepresented. 

Gustavo Andres Cardona Calderon

1. Name: Gustavo Andres Cardona Calderon

2. Pronouns: he/him/his

3. Education: B.S Electrical Engineering, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

                    Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering, Lehigh University

4. Where are you from, and where do you currently reside? I am from La Mesa, Colombia, and currently reside in Bethlehem, PA, USA.

5. What is your current professional position? I am a research assistant at Lehigh University in the Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (AIRLab) under the supervision of Prof. Cristian Ioan Vasile and Prof. David Saldaña.

6. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? To be honest, when I was a child, my dream job was being a Basketball player. However, I had a second passion for caring for the environment through renewable energy. Hence, I decided to study Electrical Engineering. Then, at the end of my undergraduate program, an uncle was involved in robotics world competitions; witnessing these events made me get interested in learning about robotics. Nevertheless, to achieve it, I needed to delve deeper into mechanical engineering and physics to be able to contribute to the research field. Thus, I started to look for opportunities to get that knowledge or experience until finally, I procured my research assistant position at Lehigh University.

7. Tell us about your experiences as a STEM professional.  What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future? My first achievement was when I was admitted to the Universidad Nacional de Colombia since this is the best university in my country, so admission is very competitive. Being admitted was a privilege to me because I could not afford any other university. The first time I took its admission exam, I did not get the score I needed, but I kept studying so hard until getting admitted, which I will never forget because it was a life-changing moment.

Moreover, another accomplishment was when my very first research paper was accepted. It is an excellent memory since it was the first time I could contribute something in my field, and the fact that other people considered it interesting and relevant was motivating.

Lastly, my recent accomplishments were when I was accepted at Lehigh University, and I had the opportunity to start publishing papers in the best robotics conferences. While collaborating with professors from different research groups that I consider "the big leagues," working together remains something I still cannot feel as normal.

I hope to become a professor, have my own research group, convey my knowledge and experience to other generations, and foster them to build the future.

8. What advice would you give your younger self? Be altogether ambitious and pursue even the craziest and implausible dream. But please be constantly aware that what matters is the journey and not the destination. And lastly, cherishing moments with your family and friends since there are "trivial" moments that you really will miss throughout the years.

9. What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean to you? It is a perfect moment to remember where I come from and the efforts I made to be here and an opportunity to reconnect with my culture.

Kelly A. Coca '22

1. Name: Kelly A. Coca

2. Pronouns: She/Her/hers 

3. Education: B.S. Mechanical Engineering Minors: Environmental Engineering & Environmental Studies 

4. Where are you from? I am from West New York, New Jersey. And my family is from El Salvador!

5. What is your favorite part about being a Lehigh engineer? The best part about being a Lehigh engineer is I have so many opportunities to be involved in different engineering disciplines in classes, clubs, and research!

6. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? Like other engineers I had a passion for math and science, but I had no idea what I wanted to study. It wasn’t until I realized that I tried to find anything at home and at my relatives’ homes to fix. I was eager to be busy with my hands and help others and I wanted to do it while finding ways that it’ll help others. I knew that whatever I chose it was going to be fulfilling on a personal level as well as give me an outlet to use those skills to aid underrepresented communities.

7. What else are you involved with at Lehigh outside of course work? Outside of coursework, I am currently chapter President for SHPE(Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. And I have been involved in Baja SAE as a welder and the chassis design lead since my first year at Lehigh.

8. Tell us about any teachers or mentors who have inspired you to get where you are today. I have to start with my high school shop teacher Mr. Grosinger who taught me how to weld in high school and has served as mentor in helping me be involved with Baja and overall pursuing my studies in Mechanical Engineering

9. What are your plans for after graduation? My current plans after graduation are going to graduate school closer to home in New Jersey and pursuing a Master’s Degree in either Mechanical or Environmental Engineering with focuses on Water Resources Engineering and/or Thermofluids

10. What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean to you? Growing up in a town and overall county here over 85% of the population is Hispanic/Latinx, it’s even more important to me now being at Lehigh to be able to share the voices and stories of the Latinx community here at Lehigh. Only 2% of the engineers in the US are Latinas. As a first generation Latina, I hold my heritage proudly on my shoulders everyday especially during Latinx Heritage Month because I don’t have many students who look like me inside and outside the classroom. Because of that, it gives me the opportunity to show my heritage and all of Latin America’s traditions and values through organizations like LTA and SHPE because it’s part of what many Latinx students would say is part of them and has made them into the people they are today. My family’s values and sacrifices to immigrate to the United States to make a better life for their children is what keeps me grounded and motivated to pursue higher education and make a future for myself. During Latinx Heritage Month, I get to have the opportunity to serve as a leader for current and incoming Latinx students and encourage them that pursuing engineering is achievable and rewarding for those that are passionate about it.

Nicholas Lorch '22

1. Name: Nicholas Lorch

2. Pronouns: he/him/his

3. Education: B.S. Mechanical Engineering - Lehigh University - 2022

4. Where are you from? I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil but I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. I finished highschool in Montevideo Uruguay and now am in Bethlehem PA for University.

5. What is your favorite part about being a Lehigh engineer? My favorite part would most likely have to be how Lehigh engineers tend to have a good work life balance. From my experience, the Lehigh engineers I've met love their careers while also being incredibly well rounded individuals who have passions beyond the engineering world. Many have even found creative ways to work with their passions in their engineering careers as well.

6. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? Since I can remember, I've always been passionate about aviation and space travel. Additionally, I spent more time playing with legos than perhaps any child should. I love taking things apart and seeing how they work. That habit sometimes led to a very messy garage to the occasional displeasure of my parents however.

7. What else are you involved with at Lehigh outside of course work? I like playing volleyball with the men's club team. I'm the VP for Challah for Hunger which I run with my roommate and friend Ryan Gogerty. I've been involved with the aerospace club in the past as well as the steel bridge club during my freshman year.

8. Tell us about any teachers or mentors who have inspired you to get where you are today. My mother and father have been supportive of me since day one. The moment I said I wanted to be an engineer they did everything they could to help me along my path. I couldn't be more grateful to have them in my life and on my side. I have recently had the privilege of working with Professor Moored over the last summer on a research project that was of interest to me. He has given me the opportunity to experience what the engineering design process is like in a work environment which has helped me mature more as a person and engineer.

9. What are your plans for after graduation? My plan is to get an engineering design job at an aerospace company where I could work on aircraft and space flight hardware. After I would love to join the United States Air National Guard as a fighter pilot alongside my engineering career, maybe one day I can become an astronaut!

10. What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean to you? I believe it is an opportunity to be reminded of how a nation has and continues to benefit from the incredible diversity of culture that has been brought here.

Andrés Pajares Martínez '20 PhD

1. Name: Andrés Pajares Martínez

2. Pronouns: He/him/his

3. Education: I obtained my MsC in aerospace engineering from the Universidad de Sevilla (Spain), and my PhD in mechanical engineering from Lehigh (2020). My dissertation focused on developing control techniques for nuclear-fusion plasmas.

4. Where are you from, and where do you currently reside? I was born and grew up in Badajoz, a relatively small but beautiful town in the south of Spain. I currently live in San Diego, California.

5. What is your current professional position? I am in the process of joining the General Atomics fusion group as a plasma control scientist at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility.

6. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? Since I was 8 or 9, my favorite course was always physics. So I had thought of studying physics, but unfortunately there aren’t that many professional opportunities in this field if you stay in Spain. So I ended up studying aerospace engineering in Seville, which is a pretty powerful industry there, and in fact requires a lot of physics (specially fluid mechanics) and flight controls. After working for a private company for a few years, I decided to come to the US to study my PhD on nuclear fusion control, which is a hybrid field between mechanical engineering (controls) and plasma physics.

7. Tell us about your experiences as a STEM professional.  What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of and what do you hope to accomplish in the future? I can’t say I have really accomplished anything worthy of a Nobel/major prize, but I have worked on plasma models and algorithms for many fusion-control problems. I’d say my greatest accomplishment is the development of an actuator management algorithm based on nonlinear optimization. Its goal is deciding autonomously how to use some fusion actuators (like magnetic coils, radio frequency antennas, and high-speed neutral particles) during plasma discharges without direct human intervention. I coded this algorithm (more than 3000 lines) within the DIII-D Plasma Control System and successfully tested it in experiments.

8. What advice would you give your younger self? Don't be too lazy (just lazy enough) and make sure to stay focused as often as you can.

9. What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean to you? I am not very familiar with the Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, but I can speak of what being Hispanic means to me. For me, it is awesome to share my native language and a big part of my culture with so many people around the world. Also, I genuinely believe that the Hispanic/Latin character is almost like a philosophy that makes its people have happier lives.

Eugenio Schuster

1. Name: Eugenio Schuster

2. Pronouns: he/him/his

3. Education:

- Ph.D., Engineering Sciences (Aerospace Engineering)

University of California San Diego (UCSD), 2004

- M.Sc., Engineering Sciences (Aerospace Engineering)

University of California San Diego (UCSD), 2000

- Engineer (6-yr program), Nuclear Engineering

Balseiro Institute, Argentina, 1998

- Engineer (6-yr program), Electronic Engineering

University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1993

4. Where are you from, and where do you currently reside? I am originally from Argentina and I currently live in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.

5. What is your current professional position? I am a full professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics (MEM) at Lehigh University

6. What are some courses you teach at Lehigh? I teach courses closely related to my research area, which lies at the boundary of nuclear fusion and controls. In the Fall term I teach a course on Nuclear Fusion and Radiation Protection for senior students, which is part of the minor in Energy Engineering within the MEM Department, while in the Spring term I teach a laboratory course on Control Systems also for senior students. In the Spring term I also teach a graduate course on Advanced Topics in Controls for MSc and PhD students. The topic of the course changes every year and includes multivariable robust control, system identification, adaptive control, nonlinear systems and control, and control of distributed parameter systems. 

7. Tell us about your research interests. I am interested in understanding and modeling the dynamics of plasmas in nuclear fusion reactors as well as in developing mathematical and computational algorithms to stabilize and control such dynamics. It is envisioned that in a fusion reactor two light atoms, such as hydrogen atoms, will fuse and release energy. However, for this nuclear reaction to happen the hydrogenic fuel gas needs to be heated up to 100 million degrees. At much lower temperatures, the fuel gas ionizes and becomes a plasma, which is known as the fourth state of matter. Strong magnetic fields can then be used to confine this very hot plasma and prevent it from touching the inner walls of the reactor. The magnetically confined plasma is, however, unstable and sophisticated control algorithms currently under development are needed to stabilize it and to achieve the level of performance that is necessary to produce energy from nuclear fusion reactions. 

8. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? My father is an engineer in the field of telecommunications. Spending time with my father and seeing him working definitely sparked my curiosity to pursue a career in the field of engineering. I always found the challenge of transforming basic science into solutions to real-world problems very intellectually stimulating. My interest in engineering is indeed pretty broad as my education shows. I explored many aspects of engineering in my career and I now work at the boundary of several engineering disciplines.     

9. Tell us about your experiences as a STEM professional.  What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of and what do you hope to accomplish in the future? I feel very proud of the research group I have established and of both the impact and the recognition of our work around the world. But I feel even prouder of the scientists coming out of my research group. It gives me great pleasure to see my graduate students maturing from inexperienced undergraduate students to highly skilled and broadly educated scientists. And it gives me great satisfaction to see them succeeding in their careers and playing important roles within their scientific communities.   

10. What advice would you give your younger self? Dream (a lot!), believe in your capability to achieve those dreams, and work hard to turn those dreams into reality. And, if necessary, work harder. Work on something that you feel passionate about. It will not feel like work in this case. However, as you chase your dreams and make an impact, keep always in mind that the most important things in life are not necessarily related to your career. Family values, supporting one another, and giving back to our community play an important role in the Latino culture. 

11. What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean to you? It is definitely an opportunity to celebrate our culture, our achievements, and our contributions to society. But, more importantly, it is also an opportunity to highlight that it is indeed cultural richness, diversity, and acceptance that makes us stronger and greater as a country.