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From left: Nathaniel Lies ’21 and Marco Solarte ’21 received a $2,500 award from the Texas A&M Foundation for their accomplishments during their college career.
From left: Nathaniel Lies ’21 and Marco Solarte ’21 received a $2,500 award from the Texas A&M Foundation for their accomplishments during their college career. | Image: Nathaniel Lies ’21 and Marco Solarte ’21

Every year, the Texas A&M Foundation Board of Trustees selects exemplary students to honor with a recognition of their achievements and award $2,500 to give them a head start after they leave Texas A&M University. This year, two of the three honorees are College of Engineering graduates. 

Nathaniel Lies ’21 was among the first cohort of materials science and engineering students. He served in many leadership roles during his time in the college, including involvement in Materials Science and Engineering Ambassadors and Materials Advantage, as well as working as a research assistant and competing in national materials competitions. Lies will be using his award to follow his dreams of entering academia. He’s headed to Georgia Tech to pursue his doctorate in materials science.

Marco Solarte ’21 was born in Ecuador. He always dreamed of studying engineering at Texas A&M, but after moving to the United States, he enlisted in the Navy and served seven years before applying to the engineering program. Once in Aggieland, Solarte helped other veterans transition to civilian life through his work at the Veterans Services Office. Now, with his chemical engineering degree in hand, Solarte will begin working at ConocoPhillips this summer and is using his award to earn his MBA at Rice University. 

The students discuss their time at A&M. 

Q: What inspired the two of you to choose engineering as your path? 

A: Lies: “I chose engineering because I saw it as a strong path I could follow to apply my love of the natural sciences to real-world problems. I also was very intrigued by the idea of contributing to the global scientific community and collaborating with people across the world.”

A: Solarte: “What inspired me to pursue chemical engineering was a deep interest I have in the development of cleaner energy sources. The worldwide population has increased significantly and the demand for energy follows the same increasing rate. That was the strongest influence I had when I decided to pursue engineering. I wanted to help the world have access to better and cleaner energy sources. 

“My active-duty years in the military were very challenging and at the same time very rewarding. I met extraordinary leaders and people that in time became like brothers and sisters to me. When I talked to some of them about my dreams of becoming an engineer, they all encouraged me to keep my motivation and gave me strength to keep the dream alive. They all helped me stay strong and believe that one day I was going to finish what I started a long time ago when I came to America.”

Q: Marco, what was it like working at the Veterans Center while studying engineering?

A: Solarte: “Studying engineering, as many know, is not an easy task. It demands dedication, discipline, courage and willingness to concentrate your full attention on what you are doing. Unfortunately, I had no option but to work part-time to help overcome some financial challenges I was facing. When I started working for the Veterans Services Office, I received much support and encouragement from all the people who worked with me. They truly understood the challenges veterans face when they transition from active-duty service to civilian life. I received a lot of training and they helped me to understand how my experiences could benefit others beginning their path through higher education. In time, I was able to help, guide and mentor hundreds of veterans that reached the office looking for help and many times only for an open heart and someone willing to hear their stories.”

Q: Nathaniel, you’ll be pursuing your Ph.D. at Georgia Tech. What kind of research do you hope to do?

A: Lies: “I'm in Georgia and will be starting my research this month. I’m very excited. I will be working on a project developing feedstocks for 3D-printed metal matrix composites. The project has many possible benefactors but the most notable are the defense industry and aerospace applications. I can't wait to get started working on it.”

Q: What were your favorite experiences during your time in Aggieland?

A: Lies: “I think that my favorite memory of the College of Engineering is taking naps in the physics building … just kidding. Jokes aside, I really enjoyed the common lab courses they worked into our new major. In those labs we had a lot of really cool experiences from pouring alloys and laying composites, to making a solar cell with crushed raspberries. Of course, I also went to every Aggie football game that I could. Whoop!” 

A: Solarte: “The best thing I got from my time at Texas A&M were all the unforgettable friendships I built in the past four years. After that, the subjects I enjoyed the most were mass, heat transfer, kinetics, fluids mechanics and the labs. My favorite professors were Dr. Ugaz, Dr. Seminario, Dr. Djire, Mr. White, Mr. Blizzard, Dr. Wang and so many others. I think the project I enjoyed the most was the plant design projects we developed during our last semester before graduating from the program. During that exercise I was able to collaborate with brilliant students and instructors that have a significant amount of industrial experience. I was able to put in practice many technical skills and abilities I learned during all the internships I had the privilege to have while I was going through the engineering program.” 

Q: Do you have any advice you would give to future engineering students?

A: Lies: “My advice to upcoming students is to ask for the opportunity to prove yourself and follow through. I was given the honor of presenting my research at an international conference in Florida, but if I hadn't asked the professor I worked for to allow me to do so, I don't think that the opportunity would have fallen in my lap.”

A: Solarte: “The advice I would give this is this: do your best to have as many professional experiences as you can while you are pursuing your engineering degree. The university will give you a significant amount of valuable theoretical knowledge. But you will learn what engineering truly is if you get out there in the field and start to experience what engineers do every day. Once you leave the program, you will be more valuable to employers and you will be able to make early significant contributions in any industry you decide to work for. 

“Follow your dreams. It's not easy, but I promise to you it’s worth it. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, either. Mistakes will teach you even more than your victories.”

For more information visit the Texas A&M Foundation story.