Diego Mendez has seen firsthand the proverbial light-bulb moments when younger students realize the enormous possibilities of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. A master's student in computer and information technology (CIT), Diego is certain that the path to a better life has direct links to technology. So certain, in fact, that on a trip home to Ecuador, he and his wife, Mayari Serrano, a fall 2013 CIT prospective student, shared their conviction. They visited a school there to encourage the students — many of whom don't go beyond seventh grade — to pursue STEM studies. For Diego, who will begin work after his May graduation at Zimmer Corp. in Warsaw, Ind., that one effort at engagement with young students promises to be a lifelong commitment.
- Purdue at first sight
Diego was unaware of Purdue until he spent his senior year in high school as an exchange student at Fountain Central in Veedersburg, Ind. It was then, on a chance visit to West Lafayette, that he first stepped on campus. After his return to Ecuador, the memory of Purdue lingered. "It was always in the back of my mind, even though I couldn't afford to go here as an undergraduate," he says. "Purdue became a goal of mine."
Diego earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from ESPE, Escuela Politecnica del Ejercito (The Army Polytechnic School), in Ecuador. From there, he was Boilermaker bound.
- Global STEM
Diego believes a career in computer information technology can be a way out of poverty for anyone. "Ecuador's higher education is suffering," Diego says. "Without STEM professionals, my country is not going to achieve development. Moreover, the lack of interest in STEM careers has become a global issue."
Diego believes that there's untapped talent among underrepresented populations and in his homeland that could benefit the booming IT (information technology) industry. He says there were only two women, among 25 students, in his graduating class from ESPE. Attracting more women and minorities to STEM careers can be a great equalizer, he says.
- IT happens!
As IT enthusiasts, Diego and Mayari bring up social media sites in the classrooms. They ask students to think about the people and ideas behind sites like Twitter. "You can see the connections right in the sessions," says Diego, who hopes to publish a paper soon on their STEM education efforts. "The kids start to ask questions and you feel like you're making an impact."
- On transformative possibilities
Regardless of where his career should lead him, Diego plans to stay connected to his native Ecuador. "That's my responsibility," he says. "I've really been blessed with the opportunity to come to America and Purdue. I've reached all my goals and I'd like to help others reach theirs."
Anyone could be a transformation maker, he says. It's just about making a positive impact. "Coexisting with people from different cultures and places at Purdue, I can see how even a little transformation can reach the farthest place on earth," Diego says.