TILF Success Stories: Meet Gabriel Perez
Posted by Trudy Richards on 11/07/2014
Before joining La Feria High School’s UIL math and science team, Gabriel Perez hated school. “I was in my chemistry class when the head coach for science approached me,” he said. This extra push of recognition and motivation had a far-reaching impact on him, giving Gabriel the direction to turn the passion he found in UIL events into a career path.
A sophomore studying Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University, Gabriel is the recipient of the Dr. Teresa Lozano Long scholarship through TILF. As a high school student, he competed in math, science and calculator application events. At Texas A&M University, he is a member of the Engineering Scholars program in addition to being a peer mentor and active member of the research community.
Gabriel acknowledges that his drive for achievement wouldn’t have been catalyzed without the encouragement of his former coach, Roumaldo Guerrero.
“This guy is easily responsible for changing my life entirely, I owe him a lot,” he said.
“It’s one thing to go to school, it’s another thing to get paid a little bit of individual attention as a student. There’s a huge gap between being just a face in a classroom and being cared for.”
“He reached out to me and asked me to be involved. I didn’t really have anything else to do on Saturdays so I went. In my first tournament I remember we won something and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a fun feeling.’ It just escalated from there and I became more and more involved,” Gabriel said.
At A&M, Gabriel is passing on that encouragement as a student mentor where he provides tutoring and life advice to fellow engineering students. Chosen for the position on the basis of academic achievement, he is more than happy to pass along what he knows to aid others.
“I’d always been interested in the prospect of teaching and helping people out. I thought, ‘This sounds perfect for me’,” Gabriel said.
“We have some people coming in every single night for help. They ask us questions about college life, school work, and we help them out as much as possible,” he said.
Having helped dozens of students, Gabriel notes that there isn’t one particular moment he came to realize his enjoyment in mentoring others, because those moments happen all the time. “It’s really just like hanging out with your friends and working on homework, except it’s their stuff,” he said.
The commitment he has to peer mentoring hasn’t stopped Gabriel from being actively involved in research. During the fall semester of his freshman year, he was involved a project attempting to determine “which bacteria produce the most biodiesel to see if this would be economically feasible on a large scale,” he said.
Though the results proved that such a solution would not be feasible, it helped Gabriel narrow his interests and get tangible experience in a laboratory setting.
Next semester, Gabriel will be part of a research team seeking to learn more about human-computer interaction. The study hopes to analyze the effectiveness of computers in processing hand-drawn sketches and recognizing them as acceptable responses.
This research has immense implications for classrooms across the nation.
“Basically, it’s online grading. Instead of multiple choice, you’d have a hand-drawn solution which the computer would recognize as acceptable,” Gabriel said.
In an era where tablets are becoming more readily available in schools and the integration of technology in education is being studied, the work Gabriel will be part of could provide new methods of interaction between teachers and students.
His background in math and science through UIL involvement has opened doors for such innovative research and has given him a competitive advantage in school by fostering “an appreciation for the field in general,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel feels this same appreciation towards the donors of his scholarship, who have also opened doors for him by helping fund his education. He enjoys relaying this appreciation by writing to his donors each semester. “I like writing the messages to my donor, it’s kind of like a confessional. This is all the stuff that goes on in my life and thank you for supporting me. It feels good to do that,” he said.
Gabriel also gives back to his community by working as a volunteer for Disaster City.
Disaster City simulates disaster scenarios in order to train emergency responders in both human and animal form. “They told me to get into these crawl spaces and training dogs would come find me,” Gabriel said. His work with the organization is felt across the nation as first responders come to the state of the art facility to work with volunteers like Gabriel in the hopes of helping others in real emergency situations.
Though it is clear that Gabriel’s work, both inside and outside the laboratory, will impact others, he wants to focus on the everyday innovations. “I want to make something that helps other people,” he said. He hopes these everyday innovations in computer engineering will transform lives the way UIL and his teachers and donors have transformed his.
Written by Katarina Antolovic