Published: May 8, 2020

Gabe headshot
Outstanding Graduate for Service Gabe Rodriguez

Gabe Rodriguez is a mechanical engineering student being awarded an Outstanding Graduate for Service Award from both the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering. Learn more about him and his accomplishments in the Q&A below. 

Share about your background and what led you to study engineering.

My name is Gabe Rodriguez. I am a first-generation, LGBT, Mexican American student. I’ve lived in Highlands Ranch, Colorado for the past 14 years, but I’m originally from San Jose, California. This May, I will be graduating with both a BS and MS in mechanical engineering and a minor in computer science.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go to college or what I wanted to do by the time I had graduated high school. I spent all four years in high school working in our school’s journalism program, but I knew I wanted to embark on a new path in college. I decided to go to CU Boulder after my first tour through campus, because I thought the campus was beautiful. And I decided to try out engineering, because I felt like it was the challenge I was looking for.

What does the award you are receiving mean to you?

I’m honored to have received the Outstanding Graduate for Service Award. Helping others has always given me so much gratitude in life, and I’ve especially enjoyed helping other students overcome the many challenges within engineering school. Going into freshman year, I was blind to the world of engineering. But I was fortunate enough to have so many supportive peers and mentors around me who helped me find my place in the college. It’s since been my mission to help build upon CU Boulder's engineering community, and I’ve had the privilege to do so in so many ways. Receiving this award reminds me of all the times I’ve been able to help someone in need to overcome difficult circumstances I too once struggled with.

Gabe with award
Gabe Rodriguez received the Certificate of Merit last year at the CU Engineering Awards Ceremony. 

Have you received any other awards/honors?

Last year, I was a finalist for the Silver Medal award and received the Certificate of Merit from the Colorado Engineering Council (CEC) for it. This year, I was awarded with the Active Learning Award. I’ve also been featured as an Undergraduate Student of the Month and a representative in the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign.

Share an accomplishment from your time at CU Boulder that you are proud of.

I think my greatest accomplishment was how I finished my senior design project. My team faced many obstacles and hindrances, and it was difficult for us to find our footing by the end of the fall semester. Though I felt defeated as my team’s project manager, I was able to pick myself back up and help my team move forward in our spring semester. We ended up developing a working prototype that our clients at BHGE submitted a patent for. Through my college career, senior design was the experience I grew from most; I learned how to fail forward, I learned how to deal with difficult conversations and situations, and I learned how to navigate the needs and wants of multiple stakeholders. Though this wasn’t the experience I had expected from senior design, it was the one I need to help me grow as a person and an engineer.

How have you gotten involved throughout your college career? 

I’ve had the privilege of leading the Colorado Engineer Magazine as editor-in-chief for the past four years where I get to work with our staff to write stories about engineering, networking and CU Boulder. I didn’t want to leave journalism behind in high school, so I was incredibly excited to learn there was a student-led magazine within CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Each semester, I get to help engineering students improve their writing and communication skills while also getting to promote ideas, clubs and individuals within the engineering community. Our Spring 2020 issue features over 20 CU engineering alumni and what they’ve done since graduating school; my hope is that it helps current students realize all the opportunities an engineering degree can offer. During my first four years of college, I was also a BOLD scholar where I got to participate in networking and group activities. Each year, I would volunteer about 10 hours to help with freshman engineering events, because I think it’s important for incoming freshmen to find their place at CU in order to be successful. I’m also a member of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. During my junior year, I was the Chair of the Banner Committee where I designed a logo and banner for the 2018 TBP National Convention, which took place in Denver.

I’ve worked two internships over the course of my college career. For the summer of 2017, I was a research intern at CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science under the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). There, I worked under Assistant Professor Shantanu Jathar to research the intensive properties of aerosols resulting from biomass burning which required a lot of data analytics and cross-referencing of data across four different data acquisition machines. For the past two years, I’ve worked as a solar engineer intern at Ulteig where I help design utility-scale solar power plants. The largest project I got to help with was a 520 MWdc solar project in Texas. I also develop automation programs for AutoCAD to reduce the amount of repetitive drafting tasks and simulation software to find optimal solar power plant parameters.

I have worked as a lead tutor for the BOLD Center’s SSC program for three and a half years. Our tutoring program offered free walk-in tutoring, where I got to help hundreds of students to study and better understand their class subjects ranging from pre-calculus to classes I was taking at the time. My favorite part of tutoring was when I helped students reach that “aha” moment where they finally understood something they hadn’t before walking into the tutoring center. I also helped to interview new tutors and offer tips and feedback on ways they could improve their teaching style. Currently, I’m also working as a program assistant for the yearlong mechanical engineering senior design course with Senior Instructor Julie Steinbrenner and Teaching Professor Daria Kotys-Schwartz. In this position, I get to help with class organization and communication, work with teams on the technical portions of their projects like engineering drawings, test plans, programming and technical documentation, and help teams with soft skills and communication. 

In 2018, I did a Maymester abroad to Rome for a class called “Culture Wars in Rome.” This course covered how the three main cultural eras of Rome can be seen throughout the city, and we toured dozens of monuments, museums and parks to better contextualize the glimpses of different points in history. This was the first time I’ve been to Europe, and it was absolutely amazing. As an avid fan of photography and magazine design, I decided to make a 50-page magazine to capture and recount all the memories I had from this experience.  

If you could relive any moment from your college career, what would it be?

If there was any day I could relive, it would be the day of the 2019 Engineering Projects Expo. Even though my team didn’t present due to IP reasons, I felt this huge wave of accomplishment and happiness as I walked around and took pictures of all my friends and peers showing off the projects they’d worked so hard on throughout the year. My family also came up to Boulder to attend Expo and an awards ceremony for when I received the Certificate of Merit. It was awesome to show my parents what my undergraduate engineering experience amounted to all in one day. 

Gabe speaking at Colorado Engineer scholarship dinner
Gabe Rodriguez speaking at last year's CU Engineering Scholarship Dinner about how scholarships have helped foster communities in engineering that help students succeed. 

What do you plan to pursue post-graduation? 

As of now, I haven’t committed to any plans after graduation, but I’m hoping to find an opportunity in Controls, Systems, or Software Engineering. This semester, I’ve been working on an independent study that involves the stabilization of reverse driving for a car-trailer system, and I took a hands-on controls class that really ignited a passion for controls engineering. After school is over, I’m planning to jump into the job search!

What is the impact you hope to have on the world?

Though it may sound cliché, I’m hoping I can leave the world in a better place. I’m not particularly sure how I will do that in the future, but I know that if I continue to keep an open mind to all the opportunities around, I’ll find ways that I can fulfill this goal. Throughout my college career, I never foresaw any of these opportunities arising, but after taking them on, I found new ways I could leave an impact in the communities I’ve been involved with. I certainly plan to continue staying involved with the engineering community at CU Boulder, because it left such an impact on me.

Any closing remarks?

I’d like to thank my friends, family and mentors throughout my college career. These past five years were unforgettable, and I don’t think I would have been successful without the support of so many people. To Drs. Julie Steinbrenner and Daria Kotys-Schwartz, thank you for helping me grow as both a student and program assistant in senior design. To Dr. Beverly Louie and Vanessa Dunn, thank you for helping me find my place in CU and the BOLD community. To Drs. Paul Diduch and Andrea Kowalchuk, thank you for the continuous support and encouragement you’ve offered as both advisors for the Colorado Engineer and professors for the courses I’ve taken. To Dr. Shalom Ruben, thank you for helping me find a passion in controls and optimal design; it’s crazy to think I took five classes under you!