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Vocation Vacations: Students Share Summer Experiences


It is a question that dates back generations to the one-room school houses: What did you do during your summer vacation? Dozens of Miner undergraduate and graduate students answered the call to reflect on what they did to expand and enhance their academic and professional paths, from internships and study abroad programs to research experiences.

Participants wrote about what they saw and who they met around the country and overseas. While some said the experiences reinforced their plans, others said their efforts uncovered new options worth considering.

Betsabe "Betsy" Castro-Duarte, director of the University Career Center, said students who participate in internships and study abroad opportunities come back more energized and excited to complete their studies.

"They got to apply their knowledge in a real-world setting," Castro-Duarte said. "Their career goals have become more concrete, and that experience will give them an edge after they graduate."

The career center director alluded to the University's new UTEP Edge initiative, where students are encouraged to participate in high-impact experiences such as internships, research and study abroad that will enhance their academic journey and make them more marketable when they apply for jobs or graduate or professional schools.

For those Miners who did participate in an experience this summer related to their academic or career goals, many felt well prepared in the subjects and as critical thinkers to answer the challenges in the respective labs, offices and classrooms. They were exposed to new concepts and techniques, and some returned with a renewed respect for "soft skills" such as communication, independence and organization. All came back a little worldlier in their perspectives and grateful for the opportunity.

Here are a few of their stories, in their own words.

Sairy Cohen Cruz

Sairy Cohen Cruz: Crafting Cyber Security for NASA.
Junior, Computer Science

This summer I had the privilege to be a NASA intern at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Interns play a vital and important role at NASA. I worked with the cyber security branch, which allowed me to develop security information, event manager reports, and analyses to protect KSC's next Launch Control System. I learned about different cyber security concepts and assisted with protocols, vulnerability assessments and reports, patching reports, security monitoring and malware scanning. I helped secure the center, its rockets, and its systems.

NASA gives you the opportunity to be part of agency groups, and meet people from throughout the program across the United States. NASA employees always were willing to share knowledge that helped me grow. I was part of NASA's Hispanic Outreach and Leadership Alliance (HOLA), and Kennedy Networking Opportunities for Women (KNOW).

I was nervous at the beginning of this journey because I left my friends, family and city for the first time, but this experience was incredible. It impacted my life so much. This internship has prepared me better for my future. It helped me grow as a person, especially in my self-confidence. It proved to me that hard work pays off. These opportunities are not easy to obtain, but when you work hard, you get rewarded.

This internship was a blessing and an opportunity for me. To work with one of the most amazing federal agencies had been one of my life's goals. I got to see a live launch for the first time in my life. I got to see behind the scenes, and learn how they create rockets and new technology. I also had the honor to work and interact with people from different ethnicities and learn about their cultures. My favorite part of this internship was attending important events and meeting celebrities such Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; and Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

It was a great experience. As a Hispanic student, it was an honor to represent The University of Texas at El Paso at NASA. I look forward to helping NASA take us to Mars.

Paola Perez

Paola Perez: Nano Research for Tomorrow's Breakthrough
Junior, Electrical Engineering

This summer I had the privilege of participating in the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at The University of Texas at Austin.

I conducted research on nanotechnology for 10 weeks in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as part of Dr. Emanuel Tutuc's laboratory group. My project consisted of the analysis of semiconductor nanowires using Raman spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy. I identified the strain, morphology, thickness, and elemental composition of the wires in order to understand their electronic properties. The nanoscale allows us to design tools, treatments and therapies that could surpass current technological limits.

Conducting research offered me valuable skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. It helped me combine my passion for science in the nanoscale along with the exploration of new technologies. Additionally, the REU program was an incredible experience for my professional development and growth as an engineer. It helped me become a more independent and organized person. My work with interdisciplinary students and exposure to new research practices inspired me to attain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. I also presented my research findings at the UT Austin Symposium and the NNCI REU Convocation at Georgia Institute of Technology.

One of my favorite parts of this program was interacting with people from different backgrounds and academic interests. Their diverse perspectives taught me unique research approaches. I learned that everyone could be brought together by a shared love of learning and research. I was fortunate to meet and interact with these brilliant peers who quickly became part of my family.

Together, we explored the beautiful city of Austin. I can confidently say that I loved being part of such a diverse and unique group. I will treasure the memories and friendships that I know will last forever.

My main aspiration is to change the world by improving health care and the quality of life of individuals through the use of nanotechnology. This summer internship also could help me become a more competitive student when applying to different graduate schools. I plan to attend graduate school and continue my research into the biomedical applications of nanotechnology.

For the full listing of the recipients refer to the University Communications article.


The University of Texas at El Paso
College of Engineering
Engineering Building Room A148
500 W University Ave
El Paso, TX 79968

Phone: (915) 747-6444
Fax: (915) 747-5437

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