Texas State student Nick Mustachio wins first place at national science and engineering conference
Remember the name Nick Mustachio. You just might see it again. This Texas State senior with a double major in chemistry and applied mathematics is working hard to ensure that someday he can use his passion for science to make a positive impact here on Earth — or maybe even beyond.
A Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (H-LSAMP) Scholar, Mustachio received a National Science Foundation scholarship and participates in the prestigious H-LSAMP program, which includes faculty mentoring, research projects and conferences. He has already completed two summer internships at NASA, is assisting with cancer-related research in Texas State’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and has plans to work on a project with two of Texas State’s most accomplished polymer researchers.
Then there’s his June 2008 first place win in the Team Project Competition at the 19th Annual Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES) Leadership Conference, an event designed to help develop leadership, communication and critical thinking skills in undergraduates planning careers in the sciences and engineering.
Tops in the Nation Mustachio’s MAES winning team included five students from universities across the United States who had never met before but had to work together during the conference under the mentorship of recruiters and professionals to develop a written business proposal and PowerPoint presentation for a real-world problem facing engineering and science companies.
The team’s challenge was to tackle a design conflict between two corporate engineers that threatened the company’s ability to meet its deadline commitment. As a “consulting firm,” the student team proposed possible solutions to the company CEO. Judges at the finals included the national president of MAES along with representatives from ExxonMobil and Lockheed Martin.
“Our solutions were to have the project manager take several communications classes to develop skills needed to communicate more effective leadership to each engineer,” Mustachio says. “We also proposed to have the entire engineering team participate in conflict resolution, ethical business classes and a team building ropes course, and have both senior engineers participate in supportive design reviews so that they could give each other positive feedback while not slowing the project completion down.
“Along with all of this, we had to create a timeline, a proposed budget and a procedure to measure success, which included surveys, process sessions and biweekly progress meetings until the project was completed,” he says. “Throughout the conference, there were workshops, lunches, dinners and even a tour of the General Motors factory that we had to attend, so most of the work on the project was done on our own time — which meant we were busy the entire weekend.
“When our group made it to the finals, we had to present our proposal along with two other teams in front of about 80 people,” Mustachio says. That’s something I had never done before.”
Science and Outer Space Although public speaking is new to Mustachio, his interest in science began early. “I grew up right down the street from NASA Johnson Space Center, so as a kid I always wanted to be an astronaut,” he says.
Mustachio has participated in two summer internships at NASA, where he had the opportunity to work on several projects involving the international space station. “That experience just expanded my interest in how science plays a major role in our lives,” he says.
Mustachio credits Texas State professor Dr. Debra Feakes with piquing his interest in chemistry. “I am continuing my research this summer with Dr. Feakes, and the experience has been amazing,” he says. “I have gained so much more confidence in my research abilities, and this has played a big role in my decision to pursue graduate studies.”
Mustachio is assisting Feakes with research involving boron chemistry that focuses on applications in Boron Neutron Capture Therapy, a type of cancer therapy for treating brain tumors. “It is a very rewarding feeling knowing that you are doing something that can potentially save people’s lives,” he says. “I’m also about to start a project with Dr. Cassidy and Dr. Booth in the polymer group [chemists working in materials science]. I wanted to diversify my research capabilities by trying a new research discipline.”
Beyond Texas State In addition to all the research, Mustachio is completing his bachelor’s degree and expects to graduate in May 2009. After that he plans on pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering or chemistry. “From there I would like to work for ExxonMobil in the alternative energy area,” Mustachio says. “Since gas prices are so high and global warming is on the rise, I think this would be a great way for me to contribute to society.”
Mustachio’s “other big plan” is to apply to the NASA astronaut program. “I have continually been fascinated with how our universe works,” he says.
Mustachio says Texas State’s College of Science has prepared him for whatever career choices he makes in the future. “Texas State has a great chemistry program that allows undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience on advanced chemistry instrumentation,” he says. “Such experience puts students ahead of the game when applying to different career fields. I have developed great relationships with professors here, and their guidance throughout the years has put me on the path to finding the career that’s right for me.”
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