Lozano named ‘Great Immigrant, Great American’ by Carnegie Corp. of New York

NEW YORK, New York – The Carnegie Corporation of New York has named UT-Rio Grande Valley’s Dr. Karen Lozano a “Great Immigrant, Great American.”

Lozano is professor of Mechanical Engineering and Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor at UTRGV.

“It is truly an honor, beyond the recognition itself,” Lozano said, in a UTRGV news release. “This distinction serves as a powerful opportunity for me to convey an important message to our UTRGV students – that their hard work truly matters, their contributions will be seen, and that it is worth embracing challenges as they strive for excellence.”

Every Fourth of July, Carnegie Corporation celebrates a group of Americans — all naturalized citizens — who have, in the Corporation’s estimation, enriched and strengthened the nation and its democracy through their contributions and actions. 

This year, the Carnegie Corporation honored 35 individuals from 33 countries and a wide range of backgrounds. Among the honorees were individuals who have fostered opportunities for others through their work as educators, mentors, philanthropists, job creators, public servants, storytellers, and advocates.

The corporation took out a full page ad in The New York Times to publicize this year’s selections.

Carnegie write-up

Here is what the Carnegie Corporation said of Lozano:

For Karen Lozano, a lot of life comes back to fibers. 

She was born in Mexico. Her mother was a seamstress who “designed, sewed, and sold uniforms to local kindergartens,” while her father provided fruits and vegetables to local restaurants. 

As a little girl growing up amidst the whirr and hum of her mother’s sewing machine, Lozano dreamed of being a scientist. Little did she know that one day she would become the first Mexican woman to earn a PhD in engineering from Rice University. 

A prolific inventor, she holds over 45 patents/patent applications, the most notable being the invention of a spinning technology that could manufacture nanofibers 900 times faster than technology currently on the market.

For Lozano, the process of discovery was a surprising one. Frustrated by the painfully slow process of making the miniscule nanofibers and the solvents that went into producing them, she was searching for a solution. 

“I took my children,” she recalled, “to a show at the Arena and saw that they were selling cotton candy. Holding the cotton candy in my hand, I realized it was a collection of fibers. I had a eureka moment!” And after years of research and development (and extensive studies of cotton candy machines), “Forcespinning” was born, a new, trademarked technology enabling the manufacture of nanofibers from a wide range of materials using centrifugal force rather than electrostatic force in the electrospinning process. 

Lozano would go on to found two companies focusing on nanofibers and other technologies in the Rio Grande Valley, helping to spur economic development in the region.

Today, Lozano is professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In 2023, she was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering for “contributions to nanofiber research and commercialization and mentoring of undergraduate students from underserved populations.” 

For Lozano, mentorship is a prime motivating force: “As a first-generation student, an international student, and the only woman for years in way too many circles, I want my students to be able to see themselves in me. I want to ease their load, not to make it easy, but to propel them higher than they ever could have dreamed of.”

Lozano’s education

Lozano was born in Monterrey, Mexico. She came to the United States in 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in 2009. She graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1993 from the Universidad de Monterrey, where she was the only woman in her class.

In 1996, she graduated with an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rice University in Houston, and in 1999 received a Ph.D. in all Science and Mechanical Engineering departments, also from Rice. She was the first woman from Mexico to earn a Ph.D. from Rice.

This year marks her 25th year working at UTRGV.

Exceptional career

The Carnegie recognition is just the latest recent honor bestowed on Lozano. In February, she was honored as the first UTRGV professor ever to be elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and one of only three Texans in this year’s NAE cohort of electees. She is also the first Mexican woman to be elected to NAE.

UTRGV staff writer Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa said Lozano’s commitment to engage hundreds of undergraduate students from the Rio Grande Valley in high-tech research has resulted in more than 170 peer-reviewed journal publications; more than 500 presentations at local, national and international platforms; along with numerous patents and technology transfer opportunities. 

“In November 2022, Lozano and her team brought home a Lone Star Emmy for the Spanish adaption of “Energy & U,” a collaborative film that includes chemical demonstrations and natural connections between energy and STEM education,” Taylor-Uchoa wrote.

“Lozano was inducted as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) in 2020, and her name will be on permanent display, inset on a plaque with fellow inductee’s names at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C.

“Also, in October 2019, Lozano was honored by the White House – one of just 15 recipients in the country – with the 2019 Presidential Excellence Award in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

In the UTRGV news release, Lozano said the Carnegie recognition is a wonderful opportunity to show UTRGV students and the surrounding Valley communities that efforts to work hard are never in vain and that hard work does not go unnoticed.

“They have the power to make a difference,” she said. “I hope to serve as an inspiration for members of our community to recognize their own potential and to keep moving forward.

 “Beginnings do not matter,” Lozano said. “Only the heart that you put into your effort matters. The heart has the power to make a difference.”

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