Dr. Alfonso Ortega, a former National Science Foundation program officer and now the College of Engineering’s Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research and the James R. Birle Professor of Energy Technology, spoke to graduate students at the national conference of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), held in Phoenix in November. At his workshop titled “Some Thoughts on Engineering Research in Academia from a former NSF Program Director,” he offered advice on topics such as working with funding agencies and juggling teaching, research, and personal commitments.
Nonetheless, Dr. Ortega believes that he took away from the students more than he gave them. “When I started graduate school 30 years ago, very few Hispanic students were pursuing a doctoral degree,” Dr. Ortega said. “To be at a conference with 40 of the best and brightest Hispanic PhD students from around the country was inspiring and showed how far we have come in three decades.”
During his talk, Dr. Ortega explained that he had switched from a large research institution to Villanova University because he wanted to have a better balance between education and research. “My comments resonated with the students, many of whom want to be professors who are involved not just in research but in undergraduate education.”
Dr. Ortega also was impressed with the undergraduate students who presented a precollege program for high school students. He would like to explore the possibility of having Villanova engineering students participate on this panel at a future conference.
Founded in 1974, SHPE is a social-technical organization whose primary function is to enhance and achieve the potential of Hispanics in engineering, math, and science. The College of Engineering has a student chapter of SHPE moderated by Dr. Stephen Jones, Associate Dean for Student and Strategic Programs.