PASADENA, Calif.—The Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation recognized three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees at their 27th annual conference here Oct. 14-18.
Great Minds in STEM, established as HENAAC in 1989 to motivate underserved students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, hosted the event at the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Conference Center to celebrate the technical achievements of the nation’s top engineering and science talent.
Joaquin Mujica, deputy chief of Operations Division, New Orleans District, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award for 30 years or more of service and commitment to STEM.
“When I was young, back in Puerto Rico, I always dreamed about flying or building or doing something; I didn't know it was a STEM career that I was thinking about,” said Mujica. “People would tell you engineering was hard, or engineering was challenging, and I would say, 'okay, bring it on!' So I pursued engineering and here I am, 30 years later.”
Mujica began his career as a civil engineer in the operations division and today manages 450 employees that perform operations and maintenance on all flood control and navigation projects in the New Orleans District.
“I'm very grateful for everyone who inspired me to be who I am right now,” he said. “I am very happy that I received this honor and, hopefully, this will inspire other people to do the same thing.”
The Most Promising Engineer or Scientist (Graduate Degree) Award was presented to Dr. Norberto C. Nadal-Caraballo of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Nadal-Caraballo’s research work covers a broad range of topics, including statistics of coastal storm hazards, coastal structure engineering, flood risk, and storm response forecasting. He developed and published his findings then employed them to develop useful tools to solve site-specific problems that are critical to reducing flood risk and enhancing navigation.
Victor Garcia, a project manager in the New Orleans District, was presented the Professional Achievement (Level 1) Award. With 17 years of experience as a mechanical engineer, Garcia currently leads a project delivery team on part of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System that was funded after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. His project consists of approximately 75 miles of levees, floodwalls, gates and drainage pumps designed to reduce flood risk.
“What this award means to me is that all my work, from past to present, has left a permanent mark on my community and the nation,” said Garcia. “Personally, it makes me feel refreshed and ready to give more of myself to work and, more importantly, to the Hispanic community.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Toy, South Pacific Division commander, presented the awards to the Corps employees.
“We're extremely proud of our USACE award winners, not only for the outstanding work they do for the Corps, but also for the examples they set as role models in their communities,” said Toy. “We know they will continue to inspire others to pursue STEM education and careers.”
USACE participation in the HENAAC conference reinforced the Corps’ investment in STEM programs and demonstrated its commitment to building a diverse and competent workforce for the future.
Corps volunteers took roles as coaches for the College Bowl, a series of competitive challenges that allowed students to interact with their peers and engineering professionals, while Department of the Army Interns served as panel members for a seminar titled, “More than just a job; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is service, adventure and family!”
The HENAAC conference concluded with a career fair in which the USACE exhibit provided networking opportunities for promising university students interested in careers with the Corps.