Parents’ example and career education create a clear path toward engineering for Texas student heading to Embry-Riddle
The American dream is alive and well in tiny Somerset, Texas.
Enrique Ayala is in his first semester at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this fall, a rare opportunity each year for only a handful of aspiring aerospace engineers. Consider, though, that Enrique is the son of Mexican immigrants and the product of a small, rural, low socioeconomic school district, and the odds of success on his career path become even smaller. . . . Unless you factor in the example of his parents and a comprehensive STEM program at Somerset High School that enabled Enrique to earn a full STEM endorsement and become adept at building robots and understanding their role in engineering.
“My mom came from Coahuila, Mexico, and my dad grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico,” Enrique said. “My dad decided to immigrate to the United States in search of better opportunities. Mexico doesn’t have the same opportunities the US has.”
Enrique’s father initially moved to Colorado before settling near San Antonio, Texas, where he went to school for electronics training and eventually worked for Sony Corporation and then another electronics company. “When I was in kindergarten, my dad brought home this bag of electronics parts. I asked him what was inside, and he said they were parts for a satellite. When he explained it all to me, I think that ignited my curiosity.”
Having curiosity is one thing, but getting the opportunity to learn about and experience careers is on another level. Enter Somerset ISD’s decision six years ago to become a STEM and robotics education leader in part by implementing two Pitsco Education STEM Module programs (Principles of Engineering and Biotechnology) for freshmen and TETRIX® robotics.
“I really do have to give a lot of credit to the STEM program at Somerset because I took the full STEM endorsement,” Enrique said. “The concepts in engineering class, the first class with Modules, that really contributed a lot because at that point I knew what I wanted to be, but I didn’t really know what the career would be like. . . . The Module class kind of opened my eyes. Oh, OK, this is what I can expect from being an aerospace engineer.”
As a sophomore, Enrique took the STEM robotics course that gave him the opportunity not only to explore and build functional TETRIX robots but also to learn and follow the engineering design process that will serve as the framework for his efforts the remainder of his education and likely throughout his professional career.
With one eye always focused on the bigger picture, Enrique recognizes the complementary nature of STEM and core courses. “As a student, it’s important to realize the why, the purpose of why you’re taking these courses. The STEM classes gave my studies in math purpose. Not only that, but I knew real-world examples of how I could try these mathematical concepts to give an added dimension of understanding.”
With such wisdom and an impressive high school transcript in hand, Enrique was a target of universities boasting top engineering programs: Texas A&M, Cornell, UT-Austin, Purdue, and Embry-Riddle, among others. In the end, Embry-Riddle was the best fit.
But before wrapping up his senior year of high school, Enrique was given the opportunity to spread his wings more broadly – as a leader among Somerset students. He accepted an invitation to give the keynote address at the district’s annual STEM Extravaganza, a community event that showcases the robotics programs and STEM activities taking place throughout the district’s schools.
“I was a little overwhelmed at first about being the keynote speaker because I’d never spoken in front of a crowd that large,” said Enrique, who went on to deliver a strong message to students – and adults – to recognize their passion as early as possible, acquire as much knowledge about it as possible, and then pursue it as far as possible.
After all, that’s the family recipe he has used and no doubt will continue to reference throughout his life. “It’s good to push yourself, but it’s important and it’s essential to know the why, the reason why you are pushing yourself,” he said. “It’s to make your family proud, to continue the legacy in a way.”