BROWNSVILLE, RGV – UT-Rio Grande Valley hosted a range of events last week to celebrate National Engineers Week.

The purpose of National Engineers Week is to call attention to the contributions to society that engineers make. It is also a time for engineers to emphasize the importance of learning math, science, and technical skills.

The celebration of National Engineers Week was started in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers in conjunction with President George Washington’s birthday. Washington is considered the nation’s first engineer, notably for his survey work.

UTRGV has over 3,000 students studying various engineering courses, with close to 100 faculty members in the engineering and computer science field. Around $60 million has been invested in the college’s laboratories and facilities. 

Dr. Ala Qubbaj

The College of Engineering and Computer Sciences has seven undergraduate and graduate programs. They are in the fields of Electrical engineering, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering & Industrial Engineering, Engineering Technology. 

The college is also working on new programs such as bio-medical engineering, in conjunction with the UTRGV School of Medicine.

“When the students come to UTRGV they get a personalized education, they are not just a number, we care about every student, they are like family,” said Dr. Ala Qubbaj, dean of the college of engineering and computer science at UTRGV. “We want to inspire students to take up engineering. Our goal is not only to produce engineers, we want to produce engineering leaders.”

Among the activities UTRGV held to celebrate National Engineers Week were a luncheon at the Brownsville campus and an evening reception at the Edinburg campus. Outstanding engineering students were recognized at both events. 

The College of Engineering and Computer Sciences also invited 500 students from local high schools to come to the campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville to learn what engineering programs are on offer. In addition, 300 female high school students were invited to UTRGV in order to be exposed to a profession that, historically at least, has not been accessible to women.


To celebrate National Engineering Week, Dr. Ala Qubbaj, dean of the College of Engineering at UT-Rio Grande Valley, discusses the ‘incredible talent’ of Valley engineering students. One of the UTRGV students, Anneliese Ayala from Pharr, joins him for the conversation.

Publicado por Rio Grande Guardian en Jueves, 21 de febrero de 2019

To celebrate National Engineers Week, the Rio Grande Guardian had a livestream conversation with Dr. Qubbaj on Facebook. Qubbaj invited one of the UTRGV engineering students being honored this week, Pharr native Anneliese Ayala. The mechanical engineering student will start work in July at Exxon Mobil.

The conversation started with Qubbaj explaining the importance of inviting female students from high schools across the Valley to come and hear the success stories of students like Ayala.

“One of our goals for this week has been to inspire more kids, and especially girls in engineering. What we saw this week was a lot of energy, a lot of excitement from the high school students. We have our own students work with them, to give them a better idea of what an engineer does,” Qubbaj said.

Qubbaj predicted many future engineers would come from this group of high school students. “I could see the fire in their eyes. When I tell them about Anneliese and Marci (Liczano), I can see the confidence growing.”

Asked how she came to study engineering, Ayala said she was a very creative person growing up. At PSJA North she was part of the tech group that designed and built the sets for children’s shows. Taking up engineering, she said, allowed her to develop her academic strengths alongside her creative skills. She started out studying civil engineering but found mechanical engineering was her favorite program.

Anneliese Ayala

Ayala’s drama teacher at PSJA North was recognized at the evening reception for inspiring the student.

“Anneliese was accepted by Exxon Mobil while she still had one year to go here at UTRGV. She has been president of the Society of Automotive Engineers on campus. We need engineering leaders. She is a leader in the university and she is going to be a leader in the future. She is going to make us proud.”

Asked what skills a student studying engineering at UTRGV needs, Ayala said: “They need to be problem solvers and not be afraid to take on different challenges. Everything we do here is a new challenge and you have to take it head on. You cannot be scared about it.”

Ayala pointed out that less than 30 percent of engineers in the United States are women. “It is still not as common as we hope,” she said.

Marci Lizcano and Sailyn Ortega

Qubbaj said Ayala was not the only great engineering student UTRGV has produced. Far from it. He noted the achievements of Maricela Lizcano, a research materials engineer in the Materials Chemistry and Physics Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She joined NASA after completing her PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University in August 2011.

In a NASA Innovator Spotlight feature, Lizcano said came to work for NASA after completing my PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University in August 2011. 

“I fell in love with materials research while working on my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” Lizcano said, in a NASA Innovator Spotlight feature.

“My work currently supports NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technology Project under the Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP). In this capacity, I lead a team of multi-disciplinary researchers in the development of materials for a light weight high voltage power transmission cable that can one day enable future hybrid electric propulsion aircraft.”

Qubbaj proudly pointed out that Lizcano was the 2018 HENAAC Award Winner for “Most Promising Engineer – Advanced Degree, Ph.D” at NASA.

Qubbaj also pointed to the success of Sailyn Ortega, a UTRGV alumna and Pharr native who landed an engineering job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in December 2017. 

“Working for Disney was Sailyn’s dream job,” Qubbaj said. “She is now building the next facility at Walt Disney. As she says, it is the most magical place on earth.”

National Conferences

Ayala said a key development in landing a good engineering job is attending national recruitment conferences while at university. Preliminary job interviews take place at such conferences. Joining groups like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers helps, she said. 

“These organizations are made up of all types of engineers at the university and they help you and encourage you to attend these conferences. I had a few friends in these organizations and they kind of pushed me to go, get my resume out, get my communications going, network,” Ayala said.

“It was one of the best experiences I had at the university, to be able to go with my friends from here to a whole other state and speak to other engineers that are doing the exact same thing as us from around the world was just a cool thing.”

Another fun thing Ayala has been involved in at UTRGV is the Baja Racing project. For this she was in charge of the plasma cutter, used to cut components for the vehicle, such as tabs and decorative UTRGV panels. She also aided in the manufacturing process of the vehicle. She also headed up the the frame, manufacturing body and floor panels, and smaller components in compliance with BAJA SAE rules. The vehicle she helped build competed against others built by university students around the world. 

Asked what she will be doing at Exxon Mobil, Ayala said: “I will be a machinist engineer, monitoring the machines out in the field and in the refineries, making sure everything is running smoothly so we do not have too much down time. I am super excited.”

Collaborating with EDCs

The College of Engineering and Computer Sciences’ National Engineers Week luncheon in Brownsville and evening reception in Edinburg were sponsored by local economic development corporations, including those in McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Pharr and Brownsville.

Qubbaj said it is critical for UTRGV to develop strong working relations with local EDCs if major corporations are to be lured to the Valley.

“We need to work as a region. We do not have a port in every city, we do not have an airport in every city. We have to promote the Rio Grande Valley as a region,” Qubbaj said, giving a shoutout to Rio South Texas Economic Council.

Qubbaj said major manufacturing companies not only want universities and colleges to produce a skilled workforce but also to possess a research and and development arm. “We are working on developing bio-medical engineers and we also want to focus on Big Data. Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, computer sciences. These computer science skills are wanted across industry.”

Asked if UTRGV engineering students could also find good jobs working for the maquiladoras in Reynosa, Rio Bravo and Matamoros, Qubbaj said: “The maquilas are very critical. We are trying to work with them. For this region to be successful, it has to be successful on both sides, you cannot have economic prosperity on one side and not have it on the other.”

Ayala said she was pleased to inspire young middle and high school students to take up engineering. She helped grade the engineering ideas of such students at a shark tank-type event. 

“Anneliese did not have this opportunity when she was in high school. There is a ton of potential down here in the Rio Grande Valley. They do not want to hear from old folks like you and me. They want to hear from people like Anneliese,” Qubbaj said.

Asked for a wrap-up comment about National Engineers Week, Ayala said: “This is the week of the year when we can engage and recognize the engineers we have in the Valley. It is also a time when people can come and learn more about us. It is a great time to see the cool things we are doing (at UTRGV).”

Qubbaj recently gave a presentation about his college at the Port of Brownsville. In front of a group of site selectors from Europe, Qubbaj sung the praises of UTRGV students.

“Our students are amazing. Some of them could have gone to Harvard, they could have gone to MIT, but they chose to stay here. One of our students (Marci Lizcano) is working at NASA. She won the most promising engineer award at NASA. She is a genius, she is an inventor.”

Qubbaj added with pride that seven out of nine of the national chess champion team at UTRGV are in the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences.