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Trendsetters: Student Leaders

Rene Diaz
Rene Diaz, 22
Senior, University of Central Florida, Orlando

Sax days: Diaz played sax at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami.

Defining moment: A ride on Mission: Space at Epcot. “I hate to be cliché, (but) it was a life-changing moment for me. While I did love music, I wanted to make a difference in the space industry.”

Family: Diaz’s parents are civil engineers, Cubans educated in Azerbaijan when it was still part of the USSR. Seeing no future in communism, they came here from Cuba with Diaz when he was 4.

This summer: A research program at Caltech
[Photo: Gregg Matthews]

University of Central Florida student Rene Diaz calls his plan to be an astronaut “the road of Buzz Aldrin.” Diaz does more than dream of being an astronaut; he devours opportunities to get himself chosen. He researched every astronaut and spoke with Aldrin and several others to see what got each selected. (Aldrin, as an MIT doctoral student, made himself an expert in a critical space maneuver necessary for journeying to the moon.)

Diaz decided to be the expert in things like mining helium 3 ions on the moon for fusion fuel. As a freshman, he volunteered his way onto a research project and wound up with a published paper, the goal of grad students and doctoral candidates everywhere. Diaz is on track for a double major in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering in 2011. He has worked on a couple of research projects, is UCF chapter president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is vice president of the ASME’s student board for the Southeast U.S.

President Obama’s nixing of NASA’s manned moon and Mars plans was a “very disappointing” moment for Diaz. But he hopes an international lunar effort might replace a NASA solo venture. “Therefore, I will continue my work in this moon mining development and focusing on the advocacy of this coalition of nations for an international lunar base,” he says.

Green with Eva

Eva Sevilla, 20
Sophomore, Honors College at Miami Dade College

Eva Sevilla

A budding civil engineer from Key Biscayne, Eva Sevilla interned last summer at the federal Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, home to 11 Nobel laureates, in Berkeley, Calif. She researched energy efficiency in commercial buildings. That led to her being among the top 100 Energy Department interns to present their research at a department national competition. Outside the lab, she won the college’s President’s Volunteer Service Award last year. She also co-founded the college chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Profitable Enterprise

Jessica Welch

Jessica Welch, 21
Senior, Flagler College, St. Augustine

As president of Flagler College’s Students in Free Enterprise, Jessica Welch and her team won the organization’s 2009 national championship. SIFE teams create projects that teach free-market economics, business ethics, entrepreneurship, personal finance and success skills. The Flagler team’s 20 projects included an ethics program that created anti-theft and customer service training videos for retail franchisor Winmark’s 9,000 employees and franchise owners in North America. Welch also headed a success skills project for Nepalese refugees in north Florida.

Nursing a Career

Safichia Chew, 21
Senior, Florida State University, Tallahassee

Safichia Chew

Nursing student Safichia Chew of Miramar wants to earn a doctorate to be a family nurse practitioner and pursue a clinical research career. She’s made a good start as one of 13 students chosen nationally for a National Institutes of Health scholarship that includes a paid summer research post and at least one further year in research training and employment at NIH. She plans to research health disparities, especially among newborns, in the minority community.