Electrical engineering sophomore gets more than a win in national poster competition

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Venturing out of her comfort zone led STEM standout to an internship with a major defense contractor.

Dillon Holloway


Not being afraid to take risks and believing in oneself is the advice of electrical engineering sophomore Irene Salazar.

 For her, this strategy paid off in a big way.

Salazar was awarded first place in the Eighth Annual Research Poster Competition that took place during the 29th annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference, Oct. 21, in Pasadena, Calif.

Judges were not required to stop at every presenter and did not give her poster a second look in the beginning, Salazar, said Nov. 30 in an interview.

“A lot of people kind of just walked past because they saw ‘San Antonio College’ and I’m next to people from Stanford, MIT, etc.,” she said.

Nearly 1,500 students from more than 120 colleges and universities attended the conference. 

The conference was organized by the Great Minds in science, technology, engineering and math nonprofit group.

Great Minds in STEM is a “nonprofit organization that focuses on STEM educational awareness programs for students from kindergarten to career,” according to the group’s website, www.greatmindsinstem.org.

Salazar said she realized she needed to change her strategy to have any chance of getting her poster titled “Sonar Imaging in an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle,” noticed by the judges.

The poster was based on Salazar leading a team of students in the designing and building process of a submarine over a 10-week period.

The submarine project was built by Salazar and four other students as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Dee Dixon, MESA center adviser, said Dec. 5.

The students on Salazar’s team were mechanical engineering sophomores Cesar Ventura and Dominic Ochoa, electrical engineering sophomore Julio Banda and mechanical engineering graduate Eben Pfeil.

Engineering Adjunct Klaus Bartels oversaw the submarine project as the faculty adviser.

The project started in June and was completed in August, Dixon said.

Dixon said the research project was funded by the Puentes Grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the CIMA grant from the National Science Foundation.

The submarine was built from the ground up except for the sonar, which was loaned to the team by Tom Clutts, vice president of Amphib Public Safety.

Amphib is a nonprofit organization that specializes in underwater diving training, rescues and recovery operations, according to the team’s website, www.amphibtx.org.

Salazar also contributed to this college’s hydrogen car project in April.

The project saw Salazar and a team of students design build a race car powered by hydrogen comepletely from scratch.

Salazar acted as electrical lead and one of two drivers of the vehicle.

Salazar helped her team, SAC Motorsport, place third in the Shell Eco-Marathon AmericaApril 27-30 in Detroit.

At the HENAAC conference Salazar began to go out of her way to engage passerbys and ended up speaking to judges from companies such as Boeing, she said.

She also made an emphasis to make her presentation quick and discuss it in simpler terms than her fellow presenters.

“I kind of had a game plan,” she said.

Instead of trying to impress judges with a large number of facts within a long presentation, Salazar directed it toward each judge’s interest or field, she said.

Salazar said one of the rewards she received from the competition was a slew of contacts through networking. 

“Eventually it wasn’t even like presenting, just like a conversation, and at the end I received multiple business cards.”

Soon Salazar had more than the two required judge reviews and later that evening discovered she had placed first in the Undergraduate Engineering Technology category.

The poster competition had 101 submissions being presented by 81 students in 14 categories.

Salazar also received an internship with a major weapons defense company.

While in line for a screening with Boeing, Salazar was approached by a representative from Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, and small talk eventually led to an impromptu interview.

Salazar said she was nervous but knew she had to take a chance if she wanted to add an internship to her résumé.

“It’s crazy what you can do when you set your mind to something,” she said.

Soon after her interview Salazar was informed that she was being offered a 10-week internship starting in June in Baltimore.

Salazar said that her advice to students would be to take risks and make the most of their opportunities.

“Actually go out and talk to people, network with them,” she said. “The opportunities really are endless.”


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