Freshman credits his decision to attend Texas A&M to Spark Conference


When Andrew Salazar took the stage during this year’s Spark Conference, he was prepared but nervous. More than 200 students filled the Bethancourt Ballroom at Texas A&M University and all eyes were on the freshman engineering student.

A year before he had been one of the many faces in the audience, a high school student excited to compete in the K-12 design competition and hang out with other students. Now, he was an engineering student himself — living proof that the Spark Conference’s mission to inspire young people to choose an engineering career was successful. 

Salazar ultimately chose the engineering program at Texas A&M because of the conference, and now, as a member of the organization that hosts Spark — the Student Engineers’ Council (SEC)— he has the opportunity to inspire other students like himself. 

“That’s honestly what made me want to join the SEC,” he said. “Seeing how involved they were and how much fun they were having, and also knowing what they did for me. It’s not often you have a bunch of college kids caring about the kids after them and trying to help them experience what they experience.”

When Salazar took the stage, he told the middle and high school students in the audience to remember to do three things —ask questions, have fun and thank the teacher who brought them.

Salazar took his own advice, asking his high school engineering teacher — Luis Rivera of John Jay Science and Engineering Academy — to stand up. He thanked Rivera for the inspiration he was throughout high school, and for taking the time to bring his students to Spark. 

“Andrew has always been one of my top students through my teaching career,” Rivera said. “When we participated in the first Spark conference last year, Andrew was one of the students that took it upon himself to spearhead the design of his catapult and his sense of pride and accomplishment was very contagious among his team.” 

Salazar’s team did not place in the competition last year, but Rivera said the experience was very positive for his students. 

“So this year, I took another team to the second Spark Conference and not knowing anything of his [Salazar’s] involvement, the first person I met when we arrived was him,” Rivera said. “Just by seeing him involved as part of this event was awesome.”

Rivera said it was exciting to see Salazar speak during the conference.

“I felt a sense of pride and happiness to see him already striving to be the best as a freshman, and I have no doubt of his future success,” he said.

Rivera said Spark spawns interest and curiosity in young students and challenges them to think outside the box.

“They get to apply pretty much every single thing they have learned in high school, therefore they get to experience the usefulness of what they are learning in a real world scenario,” he said. “It is a fun competition and it instills camaraderie and friendships among students of different backgrounds, yet similar interests.”

This is the second year the SEC has hosted Spark Conference. SEC president Andrew West said it was a big undertaking, but the payoffs were plenty.

“There are many members of SEC who volunteer their time to make this event a reality and encourage K-12 students to develop interest in engineering,” West said. “Knowing Andrew [Salazar] attended the event last year and was inspired to pursue an engineering degree at Texas A&M makes all that work absolutely worth it. Having him in SEC now is icing on the cake, and his unique viewpoint will undoubtedly help Spark become a better event next year. “

Salazar is also a member of Engineering Honors and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

For more information, visit the Spark Conference website