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SAC Latina Engineering…

Irene Salazar, an electrical engineering major, wins first place for a presentation on creating an unmanned underwater vehicle.
Irene Salazar MESA lab

SAC Latina Engineering Student wins poster competition at National Conference.

Irene Salazar, a sophomore studying electrical engineering, won first place in a poster presentation at the 29th Annual HENAAC Conference organized by the Great Minds in STEM organization and held in Pasadena, Calif.

The HENAAC conference, which touts itself as the nation's most prestigious stage for honoring STEM excellence, drew 1,476 students from 123 colleges and universities around the country. Most of the schools were from four-year public colleges; only about 15 two-year community colleges were represented.

Salazar participated in the 8 th  Annual Research Poster Competition sponsored by the Intel Corporation, The Boeing Company, and the U.S. Army RDECom. The competition included 101 submissions from 81 presenters in 14 different categories. She won first place in the Undergraduate Engineering Technology category for her project titled "Sonar Imaging in an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle."

What is even more amazing is that Salazar almost didn't participate.

Earlier this year, SAC students in the MAES - Latinos in Science and Engineering program made plans to take six students to the national convention. Dee Dixon, senior student success advisor - MESA Center Coordinator, suggested that Salazar submit a presentation on the submarine project  she led during the past summer.

Salazar, who had never entered a poster competition before, submitted a proposal. At first, she received no word on her submission and contacted the conference administrators. They gave her the news her proposal had been accepted.

When she left for the conference, she forgot her poster and had to print at new one at a Kinkos printing store a day before the presentation.  

On the afternoon of the competition, Salazar went to the conference center to show her work and talk about the project.

"I was excited to do it and nervous at the same time because I was going to present next to people who did research at big universities. In fact, the guy standing right next to me was doing research at Stanford University and he was a speaker at the conference at well," said Salazar, adding "everyone was nice and willing to talk."

After watching presenters who relied heavily on technical jargon to explain their work, Salazar decided to take a different approach and made it a point to talk about her project - conceiving, designing, and creating the submarine in a 10-week period - in layman's terms.

She noticed people were more willing to engage in a discussion with her and ask questions. She received a good deal of positive response. "They said it was engineering at its finest," she recalls.

After a few hours, Salazar left the conference and went back to her hotel room to relax for a bit and get ready for conference activities that evening.  In her room, she received a call from one of her friends who gave her the news she won the competition.

The poster competition was not the only good news Salazar received at the conference. She also interviewed with Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and won an internship. In the summer, she will travel to Baltimore, Md., where the company is headquartered.   

Irene Salazar HENAAC conference

Electrical Engineering Student Irene Salazar at the 29th Annual HENAAC Conference in Pasadena, Calif.