Scholar of the Week

Fidel Hernandez      
Stanford University

Fidel Hernandez, the valedictorian of his high school and national AP Scholar, is a doctoral student, in mechanical engineering, at Stanford University. A product of Stanford as an undergraduate and master’s student, and member of the Tau Beta Engineering Honor Society, Fidel heeded a childhood calling to become a next generation engineer. “The day I ran home from school to make a telephone for me and my sister using two cans and string, I found my calling in engineering,’ he recalls. “The day I tested about a thousand different cans before realizing paper cups worked better, I found my calling in research.”

Today, under the direction of Professor Camarillo, Fidel is working on his dissertation research on head injury biomechanics. He is evaluating and developing models that assess a helmet’s ability to reduce mild brain injury resulting from vehicle collisions, falls, violence, and sports. Studies have connected mild head impacts, even those without immediate symptoms of injury, to long-term neurodegeneration. His studies have found that the 30-year-old football helmet testing standard does not model a player's typical head rotation, the suspected injury mechanism. Consequently, Fidel plans to develop a new computational model validated with field data from instrumented mouth guards and high speed video, as a novel rational design process for preventive equipment.

Described by his professors and peers as a “creative researcher”, “engaging teacher” and “talented teacher and colleague,” Fidel has also found time to commit to extensive outreach in the community. He has served as the math and computer science assistant to Stanford’s Summer Engineering Academy (SSEA) and a Resident Fellow and Operations Director for Stanford’s Computer Science LEAD. He has served as a peer advisor in Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering Department and as a undergraduate student, served as the president of the Stanford Society of Chicano/Latino Engineers and Scientists. He has even found time for his passion – dancing. Fidel remains a member of the dance group, Salseros de Stanford, where he has had great fun in teaching choreographed dances and adding his Cuban-style dance flare.

Born to immigrant parents from Cuba, Fidel hopes to lead by example and demonstrate the power of a STEM education and make a social contribution through his research by preventing head injury, whether it be playing professional football, in the military overseas, or just riding a bicycle. Fidel aspires to share the value of a STEM degree first as a research scientist, using his STEM degree to make meaningful scientific discoveries, and second as a professor, motivating females and students of color, to pursue a STEM career.

As an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Scholar, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, Ford Foundation Fellow and Stanford School of Engineering Graduate Fellow, Fidel is well on his way to becoming a future faculty, at one of America’s leading research institutions. Fidel wants to make sure students know they can make a difference with a STEM degree. His passion for outreach goes beyond sharing fundamental scientific principles, but challenging students to address and solve real-life problems. As a professor and leader, Fidel hopes to not only make substantial, transformative contributions to science, but advance discovery, spark interest, and broadly promote the teaching, training, and learning of engineering at an early age.

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