Honoring Latinx Heritage Month at Tandon

Like Brooklyn itself, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is a diverse and welcoming place: consider that the incoming Class of 2021 is comprised of students from more than 40 countries. That international flavor extends to our faculty members as well.

To mark Latinx Heritage Month, celebrated each year from September 15 to October 15,* we’re honoring the contributions made by members of our community who hail from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Read on to learn more about a small — and by no means complete — sampling of them:

 


The Professors

Juliana Freire: Visualizing New Open-Source Systems

When Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Juliana Freire, a native of Brazil, was named a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the organization cited her “contributions to provenance management research and technology, and computational reproducibility.”

The co-creator of VisTrails, an open-source system that supports data exploration and visualization, she has contributed in recent years to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Memex program, aimed at developing methods of locating and exploring hard-to-find information on the deep web. Memex was aimed, initially, at addressing a key Defense Department mission — fighting human trafficking — but can be used to find difficult-to-discover information on any portion of the web.

Freire is also a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation-backed project called Vizier, a software tool that allows users to interactively work with massive datasets comprised of millions or billions of data points. Vzier helps data scientists (and — as public data becomes increasingly accessible and transparent — even lay enthusiasts) explore, curate and visualize information in meaningful ways.

Francisco de Leon: Transformative Engineering

Professor of Electrical Engineering Francisco de Leon was educated at Mexico’s Instituto Politécnico Nacional before earning his doctoral degree at the University of Toronto and later moving to the U.S. An IEEE fellow and the author of well over 100 peer-reviewed papers, he has been at the forefront of developing cleaner, safer, more efficient, and cost-effective electrical transformers. With the support of the National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, he has helped create what he and his fellow researchers call the HIGH Efficiency Shielded Toroidal (HIGHEST) Transformer, made of a continuous steel strip wound into a doughnut shape and wrapped entirely in coils that do not require oiling. An electrostatic shield, gapless construction, and core made of amorphous iron allow the transformer to significantly reduce energy loss — and thus cost. With the Environmental Protection Agency estimating that inefficient transformers lose approximately 60 to 80 billion kilowatt hours per year, resulting in annual costs to consumers of $4 billion, the HIGHEST transformer represents an important advancement. 

De Leon is also developing algorithms that will allow utility companies to more accurately rate their cables and better predict how they will perform under various conditions, and he is engaged in seeking ways to make smart and flexible direct-current microgrids possible.

Miguel Modestino: Material Contributions

It isn’t every day that academics and fashion industry insiders interact, but that was the situation when Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Miguel Modestino, a native of Venezuela, traveled to Sweden to accept a 2017 Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation, the non-profit arm of the retailing giant. Aiming to push a shift to a circular and sustainable garment industry, the organization recognized Modestino for his efforts to synthesize nylon — a popular material whose annual market is valued at more than $20 billion — using water, plant waste, and solar energy, rather than fossil fuel.

Although he is working at the cusp of current trends, Modestino, a past recipient of an Arkema Graduate Fellowship (given to students with high promise in the polymer field) maintains a deep respect for Tandon history and tradition. “For a young researcher to read about the school’s Polymer Research Institute and then walk the same halls as Herman Mark is a great experience,” he has said.

Claudio Silva: Hitting It Out of the Ball Park

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Claudio Silva, a native of Brazil, like his wife, Juliana Freire (see above), is considered one of the world’s top researchers in the field of data visualization — the art and science of presenting massive data sets in graphic form so that they can be better analyzed, understood, and put to practical use.

A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a recipient of the organization’s Visualization Technical Achievement Award "in recognition of seminal advances in geometric computing for visualization,” he has more than 10,000 Google Scholar citations and holds a dozen patents.

Silva’s work is not of interest only to scholars, however. Recently, he has been in the news for his work with Major League Baseball (MLB): he was the developer of the metrics engine in Statcast, a tracking and statistics system now being used in pro baseball stadiums all over the country to help MLB officials, fans, and coaches measure every movement made during a game — from the velocity of a pitch to the reaction time of an outfielder.

While his foray into the world of pro sports is undeniably newsworthy, Silva’s research has implications for a wide variety of other important areas. As he explained in his most recent book, An Introduction to Verification of Visualization Techniques, “…visualization is the lens through which users can understand complex data, and as such it must be verified ... Consider, for example, software embedded on vehicles, used for simulating aircraft performance, or used in medical imaging. In those cases, software correctness is of paramount importance as there's little room for error.”

Silva also serves as the head of disciplines for NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), and his contributions to the development of an interactive visual analysis system called Shadow Profiler, which allows city planners and architects to test the quality-of-life impact of shadow in different scenarios, is also generating buzz.

The Students

Gabi Burgos: SHPE Shape

Since entering Tandon as a freshman, Gabi Burgos has been active in the school chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), working her way up from member to Community Outreach Chair to Secretary to Internal Vice President. The organization has much in store this semester, including a massive Latin food sale and a lively Latin Dance Social. Burgos, a biomolecular science major, is determined to make her senior year one to remember, not only with SHPE but all the initiatives in which she is involved.

An Opportunities Program (OP) scholar who hopes to ultimately earn a doctor of pharmacy degree, Burgos serves as a teaching assistant in EG1001, a required freshman course, and says that she wants to be a role model and mentor to younger aspiring STEM leaders, especially women. “The main thing I’d like to convey to them is that they should never doubt themselves,” she says. “They need to know that they’ll be wrong or make mistakes sometimes, but that’s perfectly OK. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have what it takes.”

Burgos credits her own female role models for much of her success, starting with her mother, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in her 20s and went on to earn a degree from the New York City College of Technology, part of the CUNY system. “She was a very strong figure who was determined to get an education and make a better life, and she has been a great inspiration to me,” Burgos explains. Her older sister, she adds, is a best friend as well as a sibling and has been a guide and supporter her whole life. She counts many of her female instructors among her inspirations as well. “When I speak to people like Wendy Hom and Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo,” she says, “I feel that they understand me and can give me solid advice about being a woman in STEM. And I’m committed to doing the same for the women who follow after me.”  

Andy Garcia: An Empathetic Tutor

“If I can make MATLAB easier for someone, that’s a very fulfilling thing for me,” sophomore Andy Garcia says, referring to the widely used technical computing platform that freshmen in many departments are required to master. Garcia serves as a peer tutor for the Opportunities Program, which provides minority or disadvantaged students with the varied resources needed to succeed.

A mechanical engineering major whose parents are of Cuban descent, Garcia also serves as a teaching assistant in General Engineering and a floor representative at Othmer Hall. (And as though those activities don’t keep him busy enough, he works in a pizza parlor on the weekends, in order to help pay his tuition.) While he is still in the early stages of his college career, he envisions attending graduate school one day and concentrating on the aerospace field. “New York City is the best place in the world to study, and Tandon provides the opportunity to learn from so many great people, like Vaishali Prabhu, my mathematics instructor, and Nikhil Gupta, whose classes I’m looking forward to taking,” he says. “As a tutor, I can convey that excitement to my fellow students. I relate to them because I’m a part of the CSTEP program too, and the fact that many of them speak Spanish like me helps us forge a strong connection.”

Angie Gonzalez: Paying It Forward

“My mother is ridiculously proud of me,” Angie Gonzalez, a dual-degree undergraduate student studying physics and electrical engineering, laughs. A first-generation college student of Puerto Rican descent, Gonzalez has given her ample reason for pride: This year she garnered a scholarship from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and an INROADS Visiones Scholarship, and for the last several years she has been awarded scholarships from the Point Foundation, a group that supports promising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential.

Gonzalez, who is on the board of oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), explains that her family has always fully embraced her. “Even though the Latinx community sometimes has a reputation for being rigid in its Catholicism and unaccepting of its LGBTQ members, we are very, very family oriented,” she says.

A resident assistant and teaching assistant, as well as a scholar in the CSTEP and TRIO programs for disadvantaged students, her continued participation in leadership activities is her way to give back to the communities that have given her a great deal during her time here. “I definitely would not be preparing to graduate with a dual-degree if it weren’t for all the help and support I received throughout my time at NYU,” she asserts.

Diana Lee Guzman: A Growing List of Accomplishments

Back in 2015, when Diana Lee Guzman, then a sophomore, won an Evelyn Kamen Rising Star Award for her efforts to advance STEM education in underserved communities throughout New York City, we wrote: “There are many ways in which to describe Tandon School of Engineering’s Diana Lee Guzman: first person in her family to attend college, aspiring computer scientist and astronaut, and valued employee of NYU’s Center for K12 STEM Education.” That list has grown steadily over the ensuing years: Guzman now serves as the Vice Chair of NYU’s 1831 Fund, aimed at encouraging students and young alumni to contribute to scholarships; the Sub-Regional Student Representative for all the New York City student chapters of SHPE; a summer instructor for Girls Who Code; and an aspiring applicant at some top-name tech companies.

One of the initiatives in which she has participated that excites her the most is UndocuMedia, a group founded to inform and empower undocumented immigrants. This past summer, she interned as a Web developer at their Los Angeles headquarters, helping the burgeoning non-profit amass some 300,000 followers on Instagram and launch a hackathon (#UndocuHacks2017) aimed at finding tech solutions to the problems that accompany being in the U.S. without official citizenship. 

Guzman, whose family is of Mexican descent, maintains a hectic schedule that might daunt even the most motivated person. “There are so many opportunities here at Tandon, at NYU as a whole, and in the broader tech community,” she says. “It’s been exciting to be active and involved as a student, and after I graduate I intend to continue contributing to the communities that are important to me.”

The Alumni

Read more about Reynaldo Salcedo and his work to make it faster, more cost-efficient, and more secure for energy companies to deploy micro-grids.

Learn about Bertha Jimenez and her efforts to reduce food waste in New York City and beyond.

Discover how not one, but two Tandon grads, Leslie Martinez and Carlos Bautista, were named TED Residents, for their work in solving the world’s most pressing societal problems.


*The official national celebration was launched in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, in 1988 President Ronald Reagan expanded observance to 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. The unusual mid-month starting point was chosen because September 15 is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; and Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Latinx is a gender-neutral term used in lieu of Latino or Latina.