08:02 AM

STEM Challenge competition begins lifelong connections for UHCL alumnus

Daniel VelazcoEach year, University of Houston-Clear Lake hosts a STEM Challenge competition in hopes of inspiring high school and community college students to choose a degree plan in a STEM field. Daniel Velazco, who transferred to UH-Clear Lake from San Jacinto College, said his participation in the competition helped guide him on his path forward- and kept him connected to the university.

"I used to come to UHCL for Tech Fridays when I was a student at San Jac," Velazco said. "It covered a certain topic of technology and they advertised the upcoming STEM Challenge. We made our team and we came to UHCL."

Velazco said that after his first participation in a STEM Challenge, he attended an Open House event and decided UHCL was the right place for him to finish his degree. "I talked to professors, kept going to Tech Fridays, and did the STEM Challenges," he said. "I applied for a scholarship, and received it. Through all these events, I got to know about UHCL and it's why I decided to come here."

He said he'd decided to continue helping with the STEM Challenge competition as a mentor. "I became a Bridges to STEM Careers mentor and started helping put together the Tech Fridays workshops as well as programming workshops for the STEM Challenge," he said.

Even after graduating with his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in 2016, he's stayed close with those groups. "My most memorable moments are about just putting the team together and seeing so many students come and enjoy the event," he said.

Currently, Velazco is working toward his Ph.D in computer science at University of Houston. He went straight from his undergraduate degree at UHCL into his doctoral program.

"(Senior Lecturer of Computer Science) Krishani Abeysekera reaches out to me every year to help with programming and answer questions for the programming challenge. They're now using the software I created when I was a student, just modifying it. Now I'm mentoring the mentors, and I'm happy to help," he said. "Now I see my professors as friends. I trust them and they keep in touch with me now that I am in graduate school."

He said he'd also taught a computer science course as an adjunct, just to stay in touch with his program. "I will stay close, and keep working with the STEM Challenge competition every year," he said. "I will graduate with my Ph.D soon and I have a job lined up at Tietronix Software, which is a close UHCL partner. This gives me a way to stay in collaboration with UHCL outside of the STEM Challenge."

For more information about UHCL's STEM Challenge and other STEM-related initiatives, go online.