STEM Professional of the week

Mark Hernandez, Ph.D., P.E      
University of Colorado, Boulder

Dr. Hernandez is a second generation Mexican-American with roots in El Paso, Texas. His father, Jesus Hernandez, joined the U.S. Army during World War II and joined a generation of servicemen who completed college with the help of the G.I. Bill. Jesus later earned a law degree and established a bilingual law practice in San Francisco. Jesus’s example, combined with Jesuit education, instilled in young Mark an interest in politics, the environment and mathematics, and the desire to pursue them.

Dr. Hernandez enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley where he wasted no time deciding on an academic and career path in engineering education. As an undergraduate he discovered his passion for nature and the environment and spent his summers in the canyons of Utah and Arizona as a full time whitewater guide, leading rafting trips on the Green and Colorado Rivers. During his graduate years at Berkeley he found part-time work on the waterways in California. His rafting career ended suddenly when he was seriously injured while conducting a rescue operation in 1995, an accident that kept him out of the water completely for nearly 14 years.

Whitewater rafting’s loss has been the gain of countless engineering students, however. After a remarkable academic career at UC Berkeley, Dr. Hernandez joined the University of Colorado at Boulder as a full time tenured professor in 1996. He has received major awards to support fundamental research into primary microbiological components of aerosols. The Boeing Company, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other industrial sponsors have contributed more than $1 million for research on the stability of airborne viruses.

Recently Dr. Hernandez has been asked to lead a new scientific endeavor on behalf of the Sloan Foundation - The Science of the Built Environment. This initiative will bring together multiple scientific, engineering and architectural disciplines to build a new field of scientific inquiry so that building environments adhere to the highest design standards, principles and strategies for individual health and safety, and contribute to workforce productivity. This project is one among many that has allowed him to merge his love of nature with his zeal for engineering.

His passion for science and the environment are matched by his commitment to ensure that educational opportunities are available for the next generation of aspiring STEM students. Dr. Hernandez serves as the faculty director of the Colorado Diversity Initiative, which coordinates major diversity efforts among science, math and engineering departments with a focus on promoting underrepresented students through graduate schools and into the professorate. He was awarded the President’s commendation for advancing diversity in the University of Colorado system.

Dr. Hernandez works tirelessly to recruit and retain students, especially those from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering education. Once students are enrolled, he’s a tenacious barrier buster, doing all he can to knock down academic, financial or psycho-social obstacles in their way. His academic protégés have gone on to tenured faculty positions at prestigious institutions like Yale, The Ohio State University, Cornell University, as well as the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen, to name just a few. It is through all of these efforts that he was awarded the HENAAC Education Award at the 2012 HENAAC Awards Show.

Dr. Hernandez earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering, and both a master of science degree and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, from the University of California, Berkeley.

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