Mechanical Engineer: Loving Life With Honda

COLUMBUS, Ohio, April 15, 2010 – Fabian Vigil is living the dream. The 2008 graduate with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering is the first Tech alumnus to land a job as the prestigious Honda Research and Development facility near Columbus, Ohio.

“I love my job. It’s a great job,” Vigil said. “It’s very demanding, but I have the freedom to be creative.”

Fabian Vigil talks to a fellow engineer at Honda R&D in Ohio. Photo courtesy of Honda

Vigil works on a team of engineers who design parts and frames for Acura and Honda vehicles. Currently, he’s in charge of the roof and pillar design for the Acura MDX, an SUV with a base advertised price of $42,230.

“I get to do cool things,” he said. “I get to design frame structure parts and work on a variety of plastic parts such as spoilers and side sill garnishes.”

Vigil and his teammates do modeling, research, and are involved with running simulations. He also plans and studies crash tests in order to understand performance and improve structural rigidity. He’s also a member of other research teams in design and materials. He said his work in design innovation might lead to a patent some day.

A career in engineering is a never-ending education. His job has elements of economics, management and materials engineering – to name a few disciplines. Vigil took a few classes in materials engineering, but he didn’t realize he’d be putting that knowledge to use for Honda – and learning more about materials design and processes.

“I thought we’d be working with standard steel and aluminum, but there’s a lot of ways to make things stronger through materials engineering,” he said. “We collaborate with materials engineers a lot.”

As a broad research-and-development entity, Vigil and his colleagues examine both structure and materials to design the safest vehicle possible.

“You want a material that has some give in some areas,” he said. “In a crash situation, we want materials with varying strength and stiffness to effectively create crash crumble zones in the structure so the vehicle’s body deforms in a given manner. I find it very interesting to look at different aspects of what may affect the design and how it impacts safety. It is important we take this seriously and always keep the customers’ safety in mind.”

A professional engineer’s job isn’t just simulation and crash tests, though. Vigil said he has plenty of meetings and brainstorming sessions with other engineers. As a recent college graduate, he’s one of the youngest engineers on his team, but he hasn’t been treated like a junior team member.

“I’ve been working here two years and I have a lot more responsibility than I thought I’d have at this point,” he said. “My group leader has been here 17 years and I learn a lot from working with him. He has a lot of knowledge and he gives me the opportunity to try things. Sometimes, he knows my ideas won’t work, but he’ll let me figure it out.”

Vigil has always been interested in cars. As an undergraduate student at Tech, he was on the Mini-Baja team for three years. His main responsibilities were building the frame and suspension for the all-terrain vehicle.

“I’m doing similar work that I did in Mini-Baja but on a larger scale,” he said. “One of the major differences is going from tubular design frames to a stamped metal construction. In addition, it’s great working on plastics and molding that we never really got the opportunity to work with in Mini-Baja.”

I started off on Mini-Baja because it was my driven interest and it was fun, from this experience we all learned a lot about ourselves, each other, and how to get along in the work environment.”

His best memories from his time at New Mexico Tech are from working with his teammates at the Mini-Baja shop – and 49’ers.
Vigil said Tech presented an excellent learning opportunity because the professors are interested in the students and the small classes promote an environment conducive to learning and personal development.

“I recommend New Mexico Tech to everybody,” he said. “It’s tough, but it’s worth it.”

He said his studies at Tech and his mentors prepared him for his career. He credited Dr. Warren Ostergren, Dr. Andrei Zagrai, Dr. Sayavur Bakhtiyarov, and Dr. Keith Miller with challenging him in the area of problem-solving.

He stays in touch with his Tech professors and he hopes to return to Socorro as a representative of Honda in the near future. He’s working with Honda’s human resources department to possibly attend the Tech Career Fair and recruit Tech students.

Fabian Vigil, Tech graduate and native of Espanola, is the first Miner to work at Honda R&D.


“I met the H.R. recruiter  at the Mini-Baja competition and I’ve become friends with her,” Vigil said. “I’ve recommended that she recruit students from New Mexico Tech and I’ve offered to help out.”

If Vigil’s powers of persuasion are effective, he might not be the only New Mexico Tech graduate working for Honda in the near future.

A native of Espanola, Vigil appreciated the multi-cultural atmosphere at New Mexico Tech. He was a residential assistant for five semesters and became friends with fellow students from all over the world. That was a good preparation for Ohio.

“It’s kind of different here,” he said. “It’s a lot different culture and different weather. I live in Columbus and there’s a lot more to do here and I like the convenience, but I also miss the smallness of where I grew up and of Socorro.”

He can’t buy green chile in central Ohio, but he hasn’t had to go without.

“My parents and grandparents ship me a bunch of green chile,” he said. “I don’t have to go entirely cold-turkey. That would not be good at all.”

While Vigil is entirely satisfied with his career and new life in Ohio, he hasn’t forgotten how he got there and where he came from.

“I never could have done this by myself,” he said. “I am grateful to all my family, my friends and all the people at New Mexico Tech who have helped me make this dream become possible.”

– NMT –

To nominate a Tech graduate to be featured on the university's webpage, e-mail Thomas Guengerich at tguengerich@admin.nmt.edu.

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech