Hector Mendoza is a production engineer for a company that produces polymers used in the waste-water treatment process. While he was encouraged to attend college to study engineering by his parents, he was unsure of his path when he enrolled at Southwestern College in the fall of 2005. Participating in a research project funded by the National Science Foundation over the course of his study helped him select chemical engineering as his focus.
Reflecting on the experience, Mendoza explained, “At the time, conducting original research sounded like something out of reach; something only geniuses would do while working at their secret lairs. It was a great honor to be invited to join Dr. Brown’s research team after I took his chemistry course.” The project helped him improve his knowledge of Excel to solve complex problems, a skill he uses to this day in his profession. “Students earn invaluable experience in these programs and gain something to add to their resumes. It was the first thing I added to mine.”
The experience also helped him chart a clear path to transfer to a four-year university. It was during a visit to the University of California, San Diego with Dr. Brown to gather scholarly articles for the research project that Mendoza envisioned himself completing his bachelor's degree at that campus.
“The solutions for the greatest challenges of the 21st century will come from STEM fields,” continued Mendoza. “I’d encourage student, faculty and businesses to actively seek and invest in programs like this to attract more students to this important field.” Conducting research for an NSF-funded business exposed Mendoza to a larger scientific community and helped de-mystify what would ultimately become his chosen career.
Completing a community college research project was an important step in Mendoza’s pursuit of a career in a versatile field that provides him with opportunities for growth and a comfortable standard of living. Now the father of a four-month-old, he hopes that his daughter will have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on learning experience as she prepares for a career, just as he did.