Scholar of the Week



Gerardo Villarreal      
University of Texas - Pan American




Gerardo Leal Villarreal was a mechanical engineering senior at the University of Texas - Pan American (UTPA) working towards his bachelor’s degree, this past academic year. Gerardo joined the HENAAC Scholars Class of 2013 with a $2,500 HENAAC Scholarship from Cummins. As an international student originally from Mexico, he has witnessed firsthand many of the economic and social struggles Mexico faces. Gerardo chose to pursue an engineering degree to help those in need of clean water and electricity in their homes and to address terrible road conditions. He is further motivated to obtain his degree because he lost two friends on Mexican highways, in his opinion, due to poor engineering. He aspires that with his engineering degree and social policy he can change the life of entire communities.

Gerardo sees his engineering degree as the vessel to realizing his dream. He explains his dream is to live a happy life with happy people around him; to do so entails building a better world to live with people his loves. He is working hard towards his dream and this is reflected in his academics (3.93 GPA) and his involvement working with children that are sick or in economic need. As a social activist, he created the student organization Sonar Despierto at UTPA which allows members to work with ill and economically disadvantaged children, whom in turn create changes in the members' attitude towards life after seeing the children dreaming and smiling daily even with the hardships they face every day.

On top of being an activist, he is a researcher working on how to use nanofibers to harvest energy for human use. He is learning how to produce low-cost solar cells and make them more efficient. He expresses that ultimately he plans to one day own his own business and be able to deliver electricity to the furthest corners of the world. His business would not only provide electricity for people to learn, heal, cook, and heat their homes, but also provide jobs and help combat unemployment in Mexico.

At his university his professor describes him as being academically extremely bright because he is intelligent, has extreme focus, and works very hard. He puts his heart into everything he does. While doing research on nanomaterials he has stood out as one of the best researches even compared to more seasoned graduate students helping his professor achieve complex tasks. Though soft-spoken he relates with everybody very amicably.

Gerardo’s peers describe him as well rounded and an outstanding role model for students at UTPA. The work he does speaks for itself reflecting his dedication and high level of professionalism. Gerardo is creative and committed to learning and growing his knowledge and experience. He is great at multitasking impressing not only his peers, but his faculty with his performance in the classroom.

Among Gerardo’s goals is to be able to provide scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees once his business is up and running. He wants to be able to give back just like others have given to him. He explains that he owes so much to sponsors and to his family for being able to earn his STEM degree. When asked how his STEM degree will impact his life in the next 25 years he explains, "It will affect me exactly as much as it is affecting me right now. My STEM degree will be the tool to change my future and the future of my people."



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