Student From Honduras Uses UA as Summer Learning Base
Under the mentorship of professor Peiwen "Perry" Li, Gabriel Vasquez worked on a research project that incorporated 3-D printing and enhanced his resume as a "science diplomat."
Upon meeting Gabriel Vasquez, one gets an immediate sense that he is on track to change the world. He is studying mechatronics engineering at Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana in his home country of Honduras, and he has big plans to tackle social and environmental challenges on a global scale.
This summer, he spent 10 weeks in Tucson as part of the University of Arizona Summer Program "A Learning Research Experience." Under the guidance of accomplished mentors, the program offers academic, professional and cultural experiences for undergraduate students interested in the social sciences or STEM fields.
Vasquez instantly clicked with his mentor, Peiwen "Perry" Li, a professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.
"When I first arrived at the UA, I met with Dr. Li and we had a two-hour chat," Vasquez said. "I told him about my background and interests, and he placed me on a research project involving 3-D-printed tubes for enhanced heat exchangers. 3-D printing is familiar to me, and now I can find new applications for it. I'm also interested in energy transfer, so this project fulfilled many of my interests."
Vasquez explored innovative designs for internal flow heat exchangers, specifically ones that are 3-D printed, lowering the cost and waste associated with the manufacturing process.
"Heat exchangers are used almost everywhere," he said. "At a time when resources for energy generation are becoming less available, we cannot afford to waste energy. So, if you come up with a design to make heat exchangers more efficient, you are using energy more wisely."
3-D printing is one of the pillars of a startup Vasquez founded with his classmates in Honduras. The venture is called Craft3D, pronounced "crafted," and its mission is to employ technology to better the lives of Hondurans.
"We describe ourselves as an educational startup," Vasquez said. "We want to offer courses in robotics, electronics and 3-D printing. We want to give people the ability to build their own technology projects so Honduras is known not only for our coffee, but also as a country that exports technology."
He takes the concept seriously. He traveled to Tucson with a prototype of a 3-D-printed robotic arm, designed with a specific audience in mind.
"This is meant to teach kids the principles of robotics and 3-D printing," Vasquez said. "It was designed and made in Honduras. We named it 'K'Abot,' a combination of the words 'robot' and 'k'ab' (the Mayan word for arm)."
In its 11th term, "A Learning Research Experience" emphasizes objective experimentation and graduate school preparation for international undergraduate students. Housed in the Office of Global Initiatives, the program is developed and operated by the Study Arizona: Short-Term Programs team.
"The students participating in this program gain a comprehensive higher education experience, meaning they participate in research and academic activities, and they are also part of the UA and Tucson community," said Nadia Alvarez Mexia, director of Study Arizona: Short-Term Programs. "These students are immersed in a new culture, both inside and outside of the classroom."
In addition to faculty-mentored research, Study Arizona students take part in workshops with topics ranging from written and oral presentation skills to scientific poster design and intercultural competency. They also attend a graduate school symposium, where they learn best practices for continuing their education.
"I was involved in firsthand scientific research with a great mentor," Vasquez said. "The program also taught me how to apply for graduate school, which is a goal of mine. The personal experience was also great. I met many people from many backgrounds."
"Students who take part in this type of program model hone their intercultural competency skills, and this guides them in their careers and lives," Alvarez Mexia said. "This is invaluable because we want students to develop the confidence to work in their academic field and also in any culture. This is increasingly important in today's international marketplace. We teach our students to be true global citizens."
Vasquez is happy he decided to take the plunge and study at the UA.
"I had a classmate in Honduras who insisted on me doing the UA summer program a year or two ago," he said. "He kept insisting that I participate in the program, and I am very grateful to him. I believe scientific research eliminates boundaries between countries, and I would like to become a science diplomat. The summer program was a great experience for that goal."
Study Arizona: Short-Term Programs, previously part of the UA Graduate College, is now housed within the UA Office of Global Initiatives as it expands program models. The Study Arizona team offers a variety of learning experiences in Tucson for international students, ranging from one to 10 weeks in duration. Innovative, flexible programs offer students the opportunity to experience their field of study from a new perspective. The framework also provides students with the tools they need to grow in intercultural competency. For more information, visit https://global.arizona.edu/global-knowledge-network/studyarizona/short-term-programs.
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