Where were you born?
I was born in Colombia, I moved here when I was 6 and I've lived in the Bay Area my whole life.
What's your major?
Robotics Engineering with a minor in Electrical Engineering.
Looking back on it, I should've figured out that engineering was for me long before I did.
I was taking advanced physics in high school just because I liked it and my teacher said "Join the Engineering Club, you seem like you'd be good at it." Then I tested into this engineering technology class that we had, and he helped me get into a summer engineering bridge program and that program was when I thought "okay, I'm going to be some sort of engineer, I just need to figure out what."
I thought I was going to study mechanical engineering because I grew up loving cars and engines and all that stuff—I used to build my own model engines—but then I took a Computer Science programming class, then I took an Electrical Engineering class, and I wanted something that incorporates all three. Now I'm into robotics.
When were you building model engines?
The first working one? It kind of blew up our apartment. That was in sixth grade, maybe. My mom knew about it and sometimes she'd help me get the parts but my mom's a nurse, so I was building them on my own.
But that wasn't a clue that you should study engineering?
I didn't know what an engineer was before high school. I had no idea. In South America the only type of engineering I knew about was petroleum engineering, so I thought I'd have to go work on an oil rig. That's not what I want! But then I learned in Engineering Club, no, I'd be modeling, building things, doing research & development.
We were super blessed. The teacher who advised the Engineering Club... I give credit for me being an engineer to him. He tried to get people that normally wouldn't think of themselves as STEM majors thinking about STEM.
What's your dream job?
I want to work in extreme environment robotics: deep sea, deep space or post-disaster robotics. Texas A&M has a specific lab for post-disaster robotics. Theirs were some of the robots that were on the ground on 9/11 and some that will be on the ground now after the hurricanes. Developing something with them would be amazing.
I definitely want to do some work specifically with a lab like that, where they're helping with post-disaster relief. I want to gain skills that I can take back home to Colombia and help out with our civil war that's been going on for decades.
What do you like about being a student at UC Santa Cruz?
I like the small class sizes. I like that I can go talk to my professors pretty much any time of the day. I feel like there's an environment of... flexibility to do what you want or what you need to do. You can go above and beyond here, but let's say you have a family situation or you have health issues, you can still pull back. I like that flexibility. It's an understanding that students are humans.
Also, the great research that's being done here. I didn't know that this building had such intense amounts of technology until I started working in a lab. We have a virtual reality lab! Things like that are really cool.
Do you have any advice for new Baskin School of Engineering students?
Join clubs! The clubs are going to be your biggest resources here. I have attended conferences with the support of clubs, a lot of my scholarships come from clubs on campus. I got my first business cards through IEEE. I did not know how valuable a resource they were, I just kind of fell into it. Now I'm a co-chair of IEEE and a vice president of Tau Beta Pi.
It's a cliche, but go to office hours and get to know your professors. You need to do it, and it's fun, and they're cool.