Great Minds in STEM: 2015 HENAAC Award Honorees


Recently, in Anaheim California, the 2015 HENAAC Awards were bestowed upon a group of major innovators in the field of STEM research and development. The vision of Great Minds in STEM, lies in the promotion of careers (primarily in underserved communities) within technological and mathematic arenas. Great Minds in STEM has as its mission, an all- inclusive high-tech educational curriculum and programming, specifically developed toward families, students, employers and communities in minority based and otherwise overlooked populations. This impact creates an even, competitive, field for often neglected populations to obtain employment and deserved recognition in various scientific disciplines of trade. In keeping these high standards of learning and skill, many young students are breaking into and excelling in areas of leadership that were once limited to Ivy League pupils.

Since 2013, many Hispanic men and women have been awarded scholarships, training and mentorship programs through Great Minds in STEM. This specialized educational format has spread throughout the country. Many of its graduates are primed to compete globally within STEM related industries. The Great Minds in STEM educational program, is putting America back on the map as a trailblazer in science and math related industries. As well as the K-12 education, Great Minds in STEM has college initiatives, professional marketing opportunities, scholarships, protégé mentorship, and numerous (family friendly) conferences and events.

This year, several honorees were presented with the 2015 HENAAC Award for major contributions in their respective areas of expertise. These award recipients expounded upon their backgrounds, education, goals and achievements. While answering such questions as to why they entered the field of STEM, they also shared their personal and professional insights and missions pertaining to the advancement of STEM students, and the overall future of STEM related technologies.


Dr. Karen Losano – Engineer of the Year

 Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor

Founder/Director of Nanotechnology Center of Excellence & Chief Technology Officer FibeRio Technology Corporation

For 16 years, Dr. Karen Losano has worked at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Having a passion for STEM education and shares her awareness of this advancing technological arena.

Dr. Losano states, “As a professor, one of my main responsibilities is to provide students with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed in engineering, particularly materials science areas. I achieve this by providing students with state of the art research opportunities, teaching, strong mentoring and supervision. I have always been interested in learning and have personally witnessed the importance and rewards of education. Through education I have discovered the amazing world of science and engineering and have a strong desire to share this passion with young students. I see my job as an opportunity to further educate myself but more importantly as an opportunity to share the many blessings I have received.

I have always been interested in learning how things work and was blessed to have a visionary mom that even though I hesitated to enroll as a mechanical engineering student being that it is a male dominated career, she insisted that it was not written in stone that it was only for boys and that I shouldn’t be driven by stereotypes. As an endowed professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, my mission is, besides teaching basic scientific knowledge, to spark in our student’s imagination, curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking skills to further engage them in their studies to guarantee their success. I have strived to develop strong undergraduate research groups (at a non-PhD institution). While working with them, I do not restrict my lecture/office/lab time to discuss technical aspects but also to teach them the importance of hard work, perseverance, dedication, communication, work ethics, presentation skills, entrepreneurship, and goal achievement among many other skills. The above mentioned skills allow students to strengthen their potential for either future careers in academia (graduate school) or industry. These skills give them important competitive advantages. These activities do not happen overnight, countless hours of my time are required and I certainly enjoy it.

I have very high expectations of all of my students, though take them by the hand if needed (some need more push than others, but all of them need to arrive to the line). I provide plenty of attention to my students though still make them responsible for their attitudes and decisions. I explain to them over and over that this is their time to make mistakes and learn from it and make sure to push as hard as their personality can tolerate (motivate them to do their best and utilize/develop talents). My direct hands-on teaching/mentoring style provides students with real research opportunities. I have several projects going on at the same time to expand opportunities for our students, to make it possible, I assign project leaders, these leaders are either MS students or UG students whom have been in the group for some time and have risen to the lead position. This teaching/mentoring style not only assures that the work is being moved forward but also provides students with valuable learning skills, team work, supervision skills, management skills, and teaching/mentoring skills”.

Dr. Losano further elaborates on her enjoyment of working in this field. “I truly enjoy my job even though students feel I am giving them my time, energy, knowledge, advice, encouragement and so on, I receive much more than what they are getting, I get a personal reward, a feeling that I am fulfilling a mission, there are no words to explain the feeling when I see the blossom, the face of the student when “it clicks”.

Regarding community outreach, I feel a strong responsibility to showcase the wonders that engineering careers can bring and conduct a variety of activities as a personal commitment. I either go to schools or host groups of students on campus. I have a “Magic and Science” show that is so attractive that I am never tired of performing it. I make sure that I encourage kids to do well in science and math classes even if they are not going to pursue STEM careers, they need the training for their brains (analytical thinking skills) to solve personal or professional issues.

I have presented to more than 8,000 students thru these activities, either individual school sessions or through programs such as “Mother-Daughter program”, “Girls in Engineering”, “ABC of science”, Latinas Day, summer camps, and so on. As mentioned above, I always receive more than what I give, all of these activities feed my spirit and the amazing response from students at all levels motivates me and fills me with energy to keep on moving forward. Basically I try to engage with students thru a good communication and by understanding where they are; therefore, I can encourage and motivate them”.


“I make sure that I encourage kids to do well in science and math classes even if they are not going to pursue STEM careers, they need the training for their brains (analytical thinking skills) to solve personal or professional issues”.

– Dr. Karen Losano


Victor H. Aguilar-Ruiz – Most Promising Engineer – Undergraduate Degree

Systems Engineer III

Employed at Northrop Grumman Corporation, Mr. Victor Aguilar-Ruiz a systems engineer in Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems, works on requirements development, analysis and assessment of navigation systems. After interning at Northrop Grumman intern, he transitioned to mechanical and industrial engineering. As a head mentor in the Northrop Grumman High School Involvement Partnership (HIP) program he supports students in obtaining careers within STEM and specifically engineering careers. He promotes manufacturing, process improvements and stress analysis.

Aguilar-Ruiz reputes Northrop Grumman’s HIP mentoring and scholarship program as a defining moment, that while a high school student, established his pursuit of an engineering degree career. As Woodland Hills campus manager of the HIP program, Aguilar-Ruiz assists in planning the curriculum, recruitment of exceptional students. Paying forward, Victor hopes to promote inclusivity for his community’s individuals dedicated toward ascertaining careers in STEM.

“Northrop Grumman’s High School Involvement Partnership program brings me personal satisfaction and I see myself in a lot of the students. It is life changing for students who may not otherwise go to college or pursue engineering careers. The program allows them to not only be mentored by some of the best engineers at Northrop Grumman, but they also see what engineers do and learn about some of the exciting technical careers that they could pursue.” – Victor Aguilar-Ruiz

Mr. Aguilar-Ruiz further states “The High School Involvement Partnership program encourages students to consider careers in engineering through on-the-job experience, including working with Northrop Grumman employee mentors such as Victor on an engineering and design project”.

In addition to his involvement in the HIP program, Aguilar-Ruiz also volunteers at a number of STEM education outreach events in the community. For the past three years, he and colleagues presented a STEM workshop at the ADELANTE Hombre Latino Youth Summit to promoting STEM careers among the underrepresented Latino youth in the community of the San Fernando Valley. He has also supported a number of resume-writing workshops and engineering networking events for college students in the STEM fields at the local California State University, Northridge.


Dr. Elisa V. Quintana – Scientist of the Year

NASA Senior Fellow

Physicist & Planetary Scientist

Employed at the NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Quintana give insight to her fascinating expertise in the field of primarily mathematical and scientific STEM technology. Dr. Elisa Quintana is a rare individual in an equally rare profession. She elaborates on the vision and responsibilities of her very specified career.

Dr. Quintana states, “I work at NASA Ames Research Center, which is a government institution. I work on a space mission called Kepler, which has a goal of finding distant planets like Earth around other stars.  I am affiliated with both NASA Ames and the SETI Institute (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). Although I don’t receive any funds directly to work on STEM-related projects, I spend a large fraction of my time doing EPO (Educational and Public Outreach). My work is flexible in that it allows me to travel and communicate my science to both professional research scientists and to the general public. I also promote STEM fields (in particular, Physics, Astronomy and Computer Science which I have studied) to underrepresented minorities.

Further elaborating on her training and Dr. Quintana reveals, “I came to NASA Ames while I was still a graduate student (via University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), in the fall of 1999. I have been here ever since, through postdoctoral awards and grant funding for the Kepler mission. I spend a large fraction of my time on my computer. My job is to mine the data from the Kepler spacecraft to search for planets. I also work on a computer model that simulates how these planets might form. I use math, physics and statistics, all the time. I also spend a good amount of time writing up my results for publication in astrophysical journals and traveling to promote my research. The best part about my job is that I can study how planets form via computer models, and then search through the enormous amounts of Kepler data (in the form of light curves) to see if I can find planets like the ones I form. For example, in 2006 I created a computer model to simulate planets forming around two stars, similar to the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars movies.  Then a few years later, we actually found planets that orbit two stars! In fact we now know of dozens of planets that orbit two stars!

College students have opportunities to work with scientists at Ames and SETI through the REU student summer program. I have not mentored a student yet because as a post-doctoral fellow I am not allowed to, however I have worked with two female REU students that got awards to work at NASA Ames. I have also worked with a high school student over two summers. NASA has many programs that involve high school and college students. When I was in college, I won an award to attend the NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center for a summer, and this program really helped build my career as I was able to meet and network with many NASA scientists and engineers.

The future is all about computers! I would advise any students pursuing a STEM field to learn to program, and learn as much as possible about computers. Whether you do theoretical, observational or experimental STEM research, it will most likely involve coding at some point. Learning to program gives you tremendous flexibility, so even if you aren’t 100% sure of the STEM field you are pursuing, as long as you are fluent in programming languages then you can easily change fields, in my opinion”.

“For thousands of years, mankind has been pondering the question “Are we alone”, and I am lucky enough to live in the generation that can actually start answering this question. Kepler-186f proves that there are other Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life. – Dr. Elisa V. Quintana
Dr. Quintana continues, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was in my early 20s. I therefore attended a community college in California, and took lots of classes until I discovered that I liked math. From there, I transferred to UC, San Diego, and decided to pursue Physics. My advisor there was Dr. Sally Ride, a former astronaut and the first American woman in space, and so she inspired me to pursue space science. By the work I do, my job title could be many things, such as physicist, astrophysicist, planetary scientist, astrobiologist, space scientist. I study planets because I ultimately want to know if there is life beyond our Solar System. Right now we have the technology to discover planets the size of Earth, and ones that could potentially harbor liquid water based on their distance from their star.

In 2014 I helped lead the team that discovered Kepler-186f, which is the first Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone of another star. This means that if the planet has an atmosphere, it could maintain liquid water on its surface, which is a necessary ingredient for life as we know it. For thousands of years, mankind has been pondering the question “Are we alone”, and I am lucky enough to live in the generation that can actually start answering this question. Kepler-186f proves that there are other Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life. The next step is to search for signs of life on planets like Kepler-186f, but ones that are much closer to Earth (Kepler-186f is 500 light years away). The SETI Institute (with the Allen Telescope Array) and NASA (via upcoming space missions like James Webb telescope) are dedicated to searching for life in the Universe, and I believe we could have an answer within the next few decades. How cool is that!

Finding life beyond the Earth has important implications for humanity. Are we alone, are we special? There are hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, could it be that the Sun is the only one that formed planets that developed intelligent life? These are questions that could influence perspectives on a global scale.

As her professional affiliations contribute even further toward inclusion, Dr. Quintana expresses that, “I am involved with HOPE, Hispanas for Political Equality, and gave the keynote speech at their Latina History day earlier this year. I am involved with LPAN, the Latino Production Action Network, and we are working on a set of presentations aimed at promoting science to Latinos at all different levels, and I will use these to visit schools, especially in low-income districts”.

David Campana – HENAAC Luminary Award

Vice President Systems

Development Retirement Information Technology Solutions

Prudential Financial

 Having advanced in his career starting as a Chase developer, iXL Technical Project Manager, architect and Chief Technology Officer at the New York Department of Finance, David Campana, has developed a background in technological services, enabling him the vast knowledge in which to train young STEM apprentices.

David Campana states, “I do quite a bit of recruiting and mentoring to college students. This summer, I presented to high school girls as part of the Girls Who Code program sponsored by Prudential. Throughout my career, I have ensured that I reach back and mentor, train and expose younger talent to the projects I was working on. As CTO, I hired 10 students to work on a variety of city projects. I always felt it was my responsibility once I had the position and an organization who valued learning, training and development, to identify college students whom would benefit most from these experiences.

I fully understand that our future lies with our STEM students and it is my responsibility to best prepare them by providing both exposure and opportunities to these students. Being an IT Executive, it is vital that we as an organization and country continue to invest in STEM as the future innovators are in this population”.

“As Vice President of Solution Delivery for Prudential Retirement, I am accountable for many of our core platforms. Solution Delivery encompasses all aspects of the software development life cycle, from understanding and partnering with the business on their overall strategy to the design, development and implementation of business solutions.” – David Campana
Mr. Campana continues to articulate on why this is his chosen field and the impact of STEM. “I loved computers, their power and loved the fact that I can use my imagination to build future systems which will help individuals as well as organizations become more productive. As technology changes at a rapid pace, it is STEM students who identify and best understand how to use these disruptive technologies and solutions. They are painting a new world for us to work in, to interact with. They need the exposure to our current processes and solutions to uncover the vast opportunities they will identify and build for our future”. Mr. Campana’s affiliations include: Great Minds in STEM, and National Society of Black Engineers.

HENAAC is the pioneer in advancing minorities in a myriad of diverse and innovative STEM technological training and careers. It is a leader among educational centers and continues to surpass most other STEM organizations in their reach, training, and accomplishments.

Why Attend the HENAAC STEM Career Conference?

For over a quarter century, Great Minds in STEM™ has honored the nation’s best and brightest Hispanic engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and technology experts. Through the HENAAC STEM Career Conference, Great Minds in STEM™ continues to showcase and recognize its most technically‐talented students through the STEM Civic Service Leadership, HENAAC Scholars Program, Protégé Mentorship Program, HENAAC College Bowl™, and Technical Papers and Posters Competition.

In 2014, GMiS awarded over $106,000 in travel grants for students. This was in addition to over $314,000 provided in scholarships and competition awards. This year, GMiS surpassed its $2. 3M in direct scholarship support to over 930 college students, since the inception of the program!

A message from the STEM-Up Artist Alliance Chair:

“A solid education has long been recognized as the surest way to secure our community’s future prosperity. But in this new global economy, simply staying in school, or going to college, are no longer enough. The careers of tomorrow will require strong Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills, and the foundation for those skills must be laid at the community and family levels. That’s why I’ve teamed with STEM-Up to united Artists to spread this message.” Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas