President Obama honors UTEP engineering professor

TODAY: President Obama honors UTEP engineering professor Ben Flores, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas at El Paso, will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (STEM) during a reception at the White House today.

President Barack Obama will honor educators from across the country at his second "Educate to Innovate" Campaign event for excellence in STEM education.

The event will stream live on the web at 11:35 a.m. (MST) on Jan. 6 at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Flores is among 22 mentors and more than 80 educators nationwide being recognized for their efforts to mentor minorities who are studying science and engineering. Flores was selected for the time, encouragement and expertise he has offered to thousands of students throughout the U.T. system since joining the UTEP staff in 1990.  He leads several University and statewide programs that promote increasing minorities in the workplace with the hope that the next generation of scientists and engineers will better reflect the nation’s diversity. “These awards represent a heartfelt salute of appreciation to a remarkable group of individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others and in doing so have helped us all," Obama said.  The selection, which is made through the National Science Foundation, includes $10,000 the winners can use to pursue their mentoring efforts.

Flores plans to use his money to develop a program where undergraduate math, science and engineering majors will help teachers in the Canutillo Independent School District create projects to motivate students to go to college and consider scientific careers.

"This is a great honor for me," Flores said, adding how grateful he was that UTEP President Diana Natalicio nominated him. “I was very happy that … my work is now being recognized at the highest level."

The professor said mentoring engineers is crucial to help students hone their academic and professional skills and prepare them for the workforce. He lauded UTEP for the considerable investment it has made to create a social and academic support system for Hispanic science and engineering students.

His efforts have helped thousands of students complete their science or engineering degrees during the past 15 years, said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering.

"Ben is a tireless promoter of science and engineering education, and in increasing the diversity of the workforce in these fields at all levels. (We are) very fortunate to have him in our ranks," Schoephoerster said.

April Babbit, a design engineer with Lockheed Martin Corp., said Flores acted as a mentor, counselor and source of inspiration as she worked to earn her bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 2003.

Hector Ochoa, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler, recalled Flores supporting his efforts to earn his master’s in 2003 and doctorate four years later.

"(Flores) always was there to help me with any problem – personal or academic.  Now I'm a professor, but I still call him with questions about research, how to handle my students, and how to do administrative work. Although he is no longer my professor, I know he is my friend, and I always can count on him," Ochoa said.

Flores received his bachelor's and master's in electrical engineering in 1985 and 1986, respectively, from UTEP.

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