Corporate leaders at HESTEC 2016: Be confident, follow your dreams, help others

Rio Grande City High School students posed with Albert Manero, executive director of Limbitless Solutions, during HESTEC Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. Manero, back row center, holding the red robotic arm, delivered his keynote on “3D hope” to visiting students. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Gail Fagan and Melissa Vasquez

EDINBURG, TEXAS – OCT. 4, 2016 – Nearly 900 local high school seniors heard the story of how an immigrant to the United States from Uruguay rose to become a vice president at Toyota, during the kickoff of HESTEC’s Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the UTRGV Edinburg Campus.

Luis Alcantara, vice president of Production Engineering at Toyota Motor North America, said he immigrated to Miami at age 4 with his parents, who were seeking a better life for the family.

“Since I was a young adult, my parents urged me to seek out my own opportunities,” said Alcantara, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Florida State University. “Nearing graduation, I faced another set of opportunities. I could return home to stay with my family or I could set my own course. I chose the latter and moved to Detroit, where I got my start in the automotive industry.”

His career took off at Toyota, a major corporate sponsor of Student Leadership Day for HESTEC 2016. The company has provided him an opportunity to travel extensively, he said, overseeing the retooling of new plants for new model production and working on innovations and technologies. Taking on new roles in the company and in the community has helped him mature personally and professionally, he said, and provided opportunities to develop new skills.

“I had some self-doubt and shaky confidence along the way, but it was my early training that prepared me well and established a good solid foundation to progress through my career,” Alcantara said.

He praised Toyota’s tenet of “engaging the talent and passion of our people,” and advised students to consider the opportunities before them today and in the future.

Luis Alcantara, Toyota Vice President of Production Engineering, speaks during HESTEC Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2016 at the Fieldhouse in Edinburg, Texas. The Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology week is a nationally acclaimed program for promoting STEM education. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

Luis Alcantara, Toyota Vice President of Production Engineering, speaks during HESTEC Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2016 at the Fieldhouse in Edinburg, Texas. The Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology week is a nationally acclaimed program for promoting STEM education. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

“Be flexible. You can’t control when the opportunities will present themselves, but what you can control is how prepared you are when opportunity knocks,” Alcantara said. “Champion yourself. Take risks. Volunteer. And those opportunities will start to pay off for you.”

Alcantara also shared some of the new technologies Toyota employs in production and products, and the career opportunities that will be available at a number of new facilities Toyota is building or planning for the future, including a research institute with locations at Stanford University, MIT and the University of Michigan.

“There, we will enhance vehicle safety, improve access to cars for people with special needs and seniors … And we will accelerate the scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Alcantara said. “That is pretty exciting stuff.”

Before departing for a wide range of breakout sessions – featuring hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities and information on STEM fields and careers – students cheered U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), a cofounder of HESTEC. Hinojosa has remained a staunch supporter throughout HESTEC’s 15-year history of activities that have engaged more than 1 million people in the promotion of STEM fields and careers.

Students also got to hear about all that is available at UTRGV from Carlo Tamayo, associate director of Outreach at UTRGV; received an invitation to participate in UTRGV sports as an athlete or spectator from Lew Hill, UTRGV’s new men’s basketball coach; and gained a few words of encouragement from Norma Ortiz McCormick, Region One Education Service Center GEAR UP coordinator.

“How many leaders are in this room?” she asked, to cheers. “Think about your passions and pursue them; don’t let fear get in your way.”


Another highlight of Student Leadership Day was an appearance by the engineer founder of Limbitless Solutions, who spoke about creating “3D hope” — the idea that technological innovation can serve as a force for good in the world.

3D hope is Albert Manero’s life’s work, and during his keynote at HESTEC, he shared with South Texas high school students his vision for innovating with compassion.

Limbitless Solutions is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that designs affordable alternatives to pricy, difficult-to-obtain bionic prosthetics for children with severe limb deficiencies around the world.

“All of you really have the potential to change the world,” said 27-year-old Manero, who brought along a 3D prosthetic arm to display during his presentation. “That is what we believe in at Limbitless Solutions. That is what we tell all of our team members, and that is what really drives us every day.”

A graduate of the University of Central Florida and a Fulbright Scholar, Manero, who will earn his doctorate from UCF in December, works alongside more than 80 engineers, tinkerers, graphic designers, artists and developers of 3D-printed bionic arms, the majority of whom are volunteer UCF students.

Manero said he originally went into the engineering field with a goal of building airplanes, but that all changed when he met a 6-year-old who loved superheroes.

“I always wanted to build space planes. I had no idea that I would find another dream, until I met a young boy named Alex Pring who needed a bionic arm,” Manero said.

“What I learned was that over a billion people in the world have some sort of disability … Here in the United States, there are 32,000 kids under the age of 16 – maybe you know some of them – who are born missing part of their arm. I had no idea until they started emailing me. And then everything changed.”

Limbitless Solutions’ first bionic arm was built and delivered in 2015 to Pring, with a little help from the Iron Man himself, actor Robert Downey Jr. The moment was captured in a heartwarming video, with Downey Jr. presenting the bionic limb to the little boy.

“We want to use technology and engineering and a little bit of art to really make a difference in kids’ lives,” Manero said. “There is so much technology, and we have the capacity. But what we need to do is add compassion to everything we do in the hopes of really making a difference in our communities.”

To date, Limbitless Solutions has created bionic limbs for 20 children, and there is a waiting list of 1,000 children, he said.

The organization’s next big project is the development of a face-controlled wheel chair.

Manero challenged the visiting students to go out and challenge the status quo, tell the world their ideas, inspire other students, and use technology to change the world.

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