The National Science Foundation (NSF) bestows its CAREER Awards on researchers who have already made an impact while still being in the early stages of their professions.
Along with funding for their research, one caveat to them is that they need to include a form of outreach to students, typically those from pre-college ranks.
Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Assistant Professor Hector Pulgar received one such award in 2021, and he’s filling the outreach requirement with some help from NE Professor Ivan Maldonado. Pulgar is originally from Chile, while Maldonado grew up in Ecuador, giving them some shared cultural commonalities.
“I was recently invited by Dr. Pulgar from to join him during one of his mentoring visits to Lenoir City High School (LCHS) for students in the English as a second language (ESL) program,” said Maldonado. “Since I don’t live far from LCHS and had some time to spare, it was easy to join him, not really knowing what to expect.”
With the majority of LCHS ESL students being of a Hispanic/Latino background, he said that the experience brought back memories of his own time in high school, having come to the US with very little exposure to English. Over the years, however, Maldonado would eventually achieve “my own version of the American Dream.”
He relayed his story to the Lenoir City students, talking about he overcame those early language barriers to become the first person in his family to graduate college, and how that education eventually led to him become a university professor, a path similar to Pulgar’s.
Maldonado’s intent was to plant a seed with one or more of the students to believe that a lot of good things can occur in their lives as they move forward.
“One goal, concurring with statements from Dr. Pulgar, is to instill in them the fact that they can all dream big, and that they are also allowed to aspire toward successful paths as productive members of our American society. “We may not be able to change everyone’s perspective, but if one single student sees a ray of hope, that’s good enough for me. I was very happy that Dr. Pulgar invited me to participate in this program.”
Pulgar and Maldonado also both emphasized the importance of academics, taking classes seriously, pursuing the ACT, and learning about the university and UT Promise.
As part of that, some Lenoir City students will be coming to UT’s campus for a visit at the end of May. Anyone interested in participating in that or willing to provide interesting engineering laboratory-type experiences to these students are encouraged to contact Pulgar.