Senator Udall Discusses New Mexico’s Future With Tech Students

SOCORRO, N.M. January 21, 2010 – Senator Tom Udall convened a student panel at New Mexico Tech last week to learn more about the Socorro university, its students and the job market for engineers.

Nine students and recent graduates, plus professors and administrators, met with the Senator for an hour Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Discussion topics included software availability and training at Tech, collaborative training, and job opportunities after graduation.
University president Dr. Daniel H. Lopez welcomed Udall and introduced the student panel. He said a significant and unique aspect at New Mexico Tech is that undergraduates have ample opportunities to be involved in research.

Rosalie Ezra, (front right) a 2009 Tech graduate, tells Senator Tom Udall and university president Dr. Daniel H. Lopez about her experience at New Mexico Tech. Other students pictured include Lee Tu, Breanne Dunaway and Kameron Ray.

“Research gives them an advanced opportunity,” he said. “And we think we have the best students in the country.”

Udall was particularly interested to know how many Tech students remain in New Mexico after graduation.

“We’re trying to position New Mexico as a real leader in high tech fields,” Udall said.

Michaela Gorospe, a graduate student in geochemistry, said New Mexico has plenty of engineering jobs and challenges. She worked for Peabody Coal for two years before returning to Tech for a master’s degree.

Roughly half of each graduating class at Tech leaves the state for employment, said Chelsea Buffington, director of student services. The national labs – Sandia and Los Alamos, in particular, and their contractors – are strong recruiters. However, out-of-state companies and agencies also recruit heavily at Tech. Navair, based in China Lake, Calif., is the top recruiter of Tech students. As another example, Dr. Lorie Liebrock said SpaWar, a U.S. Navy division, includes New Mexico Tech on its short list of only four university recruiting locations.

Students Tamara Dixon, Michaela Gorospe and Viet Le joined Senator Tom Udall on Wednesday, Jan. 13, for a roundtable about education and careers in New Mexico. Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech

Lee Tu, a chemical engineering major, recently completed an internship at Idaho National Lab. He said he was more prepared for the assignment than his peers from other state universities across the nation.

Rosalie Ezra, a 2009 graduate now working for Honeywell in Albuquerque, said her Tech education prepared her for a career in many ways. In addition to technical training and expertise, she said her senior design clinic prepared her to work in a collaborative environment and to present research.

After three months on the job, she was asked to give a significant presentation to a large group of engineers from Lockheed Martin, Honeywell and other contractors. She said she was extremely nervous until her boss – and former undergraduate project sponsor – reminded her that she had already done the same thing at New Mexico Tech.

Kyle Chavez, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, and Tamara Dixon, a senior in the department, reiterated what Ezra said. They said New Mexico Tech offered more than just an education; they learned career skills and made contacts with potential employers.

Kameron Ray, a senior in the mineral engineering department, said the interdisciplinary aspect of senior design projects adds value to the Tech education.

Udall had attended Gov. Bill Richardson’s event the previous day to reiterate his Green Jobs Cabinet initiatives.

Ray said job and research initiatives should not overlook fossil fuels. Because many Americans depend on fossil fuel industries for employment, he said green initiatives should include provisions that help companies transition jobs and operations from fossil fuels to green technologies.

Students also gave feedback about how Tech might improve. Breanne Dunaway, a petroleum engineering student, said she’d like to see Tech offer more software training, both in basic programs like Microsoft Excel and other high-end software packages.
Gorospe said she lacked training in AutoCad when she went to work for Peabody Coal.

Dr. Tom Engler, chair of the Petroleum Engineering Department, said faculty members oversee millions of dollars worth of software packages. Often, students need preliminary training before they learn software applications in upper level classes.

However, Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity acknowledged that Tech does have gaps in its software. Often, internship experiences fill those gaps, Gerity said, providing students with access to new software platforms.

On his website, Udall wrote after the roundtable that, “I met with our future innovators at New Mexico Tech. … I think we should be incredibly proud of the talent graduates of our state's universities. These grads should be encouraged to stay in the state and lead New Mexico to new heights.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech