After his first visit to the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) campus, senior Tomás Goldaracena knew he’d found his academic home.
“I felt like small class [size] was important in engineering because I would have contact with my professors, which I wouldn’t have at a larger university,” Goldaracena said. “UIW was a perfect fit for me.”
But his parents weren’t as confident. Goldaracena’s father is an engineer and thought his son should consider attending a larger state institution with a fully established engineering school.
Goldaracena convinced his parents that UIW was the right place for him, but promised he’d consider transferring to a state school after two years.
“During my sophomore year, Dr. [Michael] Frye started talking to me about the Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) lab and the opportunities that would come in the next few years,” Goldaracena said. “With a transfer acceptance letter in my hand, I went home and told my parents I had decided to stay at UIW. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Incarnate Word’s AVS lab provides students the ability to learn about engineering technology connected to autonomous ground and air vehicles as well as research experience investigating cooperative behavior.
One reason Goldaracena was so happy with his choice was the very same reason his parents were concerned about what opportunities the UIW engineering program would provide him.
“Because it’s a smaller program, I’ve had the chance to do undergraduate work that I would have never dreamed of doing at a larger state university, even at the graduate level,” Goldaracena said. “The students at bigger universities don’t have access to all of this.”
The opportunities UIW has afforded Goldaracena haven’t stopped in the AVS lab or the classroom.
“UIW has given me an opportunity to grow as a student, but also as a person. Engineers are always thought of as being stuck in a lab doing math,” he said.
Goldaracena said that he’s met professionals in engineering and had the chance to talk to them about the field and he’s participated in outreach during the summer, aimed at inspiring middle school girls to become engineers through summer camps.
“It’s been something I’ve greatly enjoyed. We don’t do it because we have to, we do it because we care. I think that’s different,” he said.
In addition to the personal and professional growth, Goldaracena has been a part of growing UIW’s engineering program into something really impressive.
“In May we will be the largest autonomous vehicle lab in the country. We will be bigger than MIT or CalTech when it comes to equipment. We will have more equipment than anyone else,” Goldaracena said. “What is unique is that all of those universities will have Ph.D. or post-graduate students doing research. At UIW, we only have undergrads [doing the research]. UIW offers undergrads the opportunity to do graduate work at the undergrad level.”
Goldaracena said he would choose UIW all over again, in part because he’s been able to be involved in the development of the AVS lab from the beginning.
“I really do see this program becoming [one of the] elite programs in the country and I feel very proud that I’ve been able to be involved in the early stages.”