By Helen Widman
It’s the last evening of Jose Tabarez’s three-week study abroad trip to Peru, yet he joins our Zoom call with punctuality and an air of professionalism. As a first generation honors college student and recent CGIF and ACerS scholarship recipient, Tabarez approaches his education with a passion that drives him to seize as many opportunities as he can, including this trip to Peru.
Aside from his recent study abroad trip, Tabarez is now a junior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) where he studies civil engineering.
“Civil engineering is like the mother of all engineering,” Tabarez says. “I’ve always been interested in the construction aspect and teamwork and the planning. I’m very intrigued in the transportation, the structural aspects, of civil engineering. So that would be planning, construction and maintenance of anything transportation, road bridges, highways, airports.”
He’s an active member of six different organizations at UTRGV, one of those roles being involved in the university’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). The scholarship Tabarez received on behalf of the CGIF and ACerS is also in conjunction with SHPE.
“I like SHPE because it’s a professional organization, it helps you build your professional background along with networking, which I think it’s very important,” Tabarez says. “It got me very involved on campus and nationally with connections.”
Tabarez grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and looks to his father as one of his most prominent inspirations.
“My dad, for his whole life, he’s been working in construction,” Tabarez says. “My dad is my inspiration for being in STEM and construction and just trying to be very hardworking and leaving an impact.”
As a first generation student, Tabarez learned how to become a college student without the added support of a parent who’s also had that experience. Throughout that process, Tabarez discovered how much he enjoys being that support person for others. In his free time, he still volunteers at his high school robotics club.
“I enjoy the pastime (by) helping others and just kind of aiding those who need assistance or just guidance, like a new path or something since they’re not familiar,” Tabarez says.
Jonathan Turner, who teaches a variety of STEM-related subjects at Gregory-Portland High School in Corpus Christi, also serves as the lead mentor for the school robotics club. Turner says that the program has doubled in size since Tabarez participated in it as a high school student, largely due to the foundation Tabarez laid for it.
“From the first days he was in my class, I could tell Jose had a passion for learning,” Turner says. “He was never happy with just getting something right, he always wanted a deeper understanding of the ‘why’ for the different scientific processes we explored. This naturally curious mind was ideal for a field like engineering and he took to it and our robotics program splendidly.”
As a student studying civil engineering, Tabarez also understands the importance of materials science in the construction world.
“Materials science is considered from the start of a project for budgeting to designing a proper structure or project to be executed,” he says. “Materials science is constantly around us, from the structure of materials, the processing methods to make that material, to the resulting material properties. Materials science is an essential factor in improving our housing, our forms of transportation, the way we work, and so much more.”
In the future, Tabarez hopes to pursue graduate education and secure an internship that will expose him more to the civil engineering industry after he completes his undergraduate degree. This November, he plans to attend the national SHPE conference in North Carolina, an opportunity that the scholarship has opened for him.
“That sense of being in an environment where everyone’s striving for the same thing and helping each other, I would say that’s something that I really enjoy of SHPE,” Tabarez says. “Just that sense of family, that sense of familia within each other.”