Villarreal engineers success with
top honors at HENAAC Conference
By Catherine Harper
Once in motion, the forces of knowledge can accelerate at an unstoppable speed. For Saul Villarreal, a Texas State industrial engineering student who captured first-place honors for his semiconductor research presentation at the Oct. 8 Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC), an unbeatable drive continues to build momentum toward success.
Villarreal’s graduation from Texas State is set for December 2011; however, his passion for learning has not yet reached its finish. With his vigorous undergraduate experience behind him and charged career goals for the future, Villarreal’s ambitions are set to full speed.
During his undergraduate career at Texas State, Villarreal found opportunities with programs such as the Houston Louis-Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (H-LSAMP) program in Texas State’s College of Science and Engineering. Despite being five hours away from his hometown in Brownsville, Texas, Villarreal says the support of students and faculty has encouraged his light for learning.
“Being here at Texas State, even though I’m away from home, just having support from other students in H-LSAMP has helped me to not miss home that much,” Villarreal says. “As a group of scholars, we inspire each other by just being around people that have really positive goals. It really benefits you because it’s the kind of environment you want to be in to be successful.“
With the H-LSAMP program wiring his path to success, Villarreal stayed current in his undergraduate studies by conducting additional research alongside his industrial engineering professors in Texas State’s Center for High Performance Systems (CHIPS) Lab and attending leadership conferences. According to Villarreal, his experience in the lab fueled his goal of becoming an industrial engineer.
“One of the best experiences I’ve had as an undergrad student has been to work in the CHIPS lab, because I’ve been able to work on simulation models for different types of industries,” Villarreal says. “It has really helped me because when I’m learning in class I can apply it to different works.”
In 2010, Villarreal shifted gears to undertake a seven-week research project at the University of Puerto Rico, opening up new avenues of opportunity for Villarreal including a chance to compete in the 2010 HENAAC Competition. Although not entirely successful in his first try, his experience set his determination to compete and win in next year’s round.
“It was a really nice experience. Even though I didn’t win that time, I was just like, ‘I’m going to win next year!'” Villarreal says. “I brought back the learning I gained from the University of Puerto Rico to Texas State to do more complex projects.”
With his preliminary conference experience behind him, Villarreal began competing in conferences such as May’s IEEE Conference for Industrial Engineers, one of the world’s largest conferences in the field. Villarreal worked with professors Dr. Tongdan Jin, Dr. Jesus Jimenez and Dr. Michael Cabrera in submitting a research paper on green manufacturing to IEEE Magazine, which sparked his idea for research on semiconductors for the 2011 HENAAC Conference.
With greener pastures in mind, Villarreal set out to explore green energy alternatives such as wind turbines alongside his industrial engineering professors. With their guidance and varying expertise in distinct fields regarding the project, Villarreal says the personal friendship he found with the professors as well as a passion for green energy research drove his determination.
“It was really interesting to research green energy because we think that it is the future for the next 10, 20 years,” Villarreal says. “For me to have my hands on this right now is just great, as well as having experience [researching] with different professors.”
At the 2011 HENAAC Conference, Villarreal’s research presentation entitled “Modeling, Analysis and Integration of Distributed Generation Systems in a Semiconductor Fab” accelerated past universities and laboratories such as the University of Notre Dame, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Clemson University and Florida A&M University.
According to Villarreal, the chance to network with scholars as well as the feedback and interview opportunities he received from top companies such as the National Energy Renewal Laboratory (NREL) helped to drive the experience home and revamp his determination.
“I think just doing this conference has just let me know that I want to go for a master’s,” Villarreal says. “It really has helped me to go to this HENAAC Conference because I was able to talk to them about my research and have a couple of interviews with these companies. It was great.”