Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Each year between September 15 and October 15, the United States observes Hispanic Heritage Month. During this month, Hispanic heritage is recognized through the appreciation of the histories, cultures, and diversity of various Latinx communities throughout the country. To bring a conclusion to this month of celebration, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) would like to take time to highlight some of our Hispanic and Latinx researchers; to show appreciation for their valuable contributions to our various research efforts and remind ourselves of the benefit diverse perspectives can bring to global-scale research. After all, our two core values are Students First and None of us is as smart as all of us.
Felipe Saavedra Rojas, Graduate Research Assistant – Chile
Originally from Chile, Felipe Saacedra Rojas is one of many graduate researchers at the ASCC working on cutting-edge solutions to some of our world’s most complicated problems. In 2018, Rojas graduated with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Universidad de Concepción. Throughout his undergraduate studies, Rojas focused on structural engineering. His interests led him to UMaine in 2021 where began his work with our Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center (TIDC).
From the mountaintops of the Andes to its 6,435 km of coastline, Chile is a beautiful country revered for its dramatic landscapes and delicious seafood. Home to South America’s tallest building, Chile is also a highly seismic country known for being prone to earthquakes, making structural resilience an important cultural value. 
“It is said that a Chilean will live through three big earthquakes during their life. I already went through one in 2010. I might say that I don’t miss tremors that much,” said Rojas. However, Rojas acknowledged the fortitude and strength of his country after high-scale seismic activity. 
Now,  he continues his career researching the durability of large-scale, 3D-printed structures to improve longevity and advance material sustainability and resilience in additive manufacturing. His work advances commercial and residential construction in line with the ASCC’s GEM: Green Energy and Materials. Rojas’ work is instrumental in adapting the nation’s manufacturing industry to be more sustainable in our global fight against climate change.
Danilo Botero Lopez, Graduate Assistant – La Ceja, Colombia 
Graduate Research Assistant, Danilo Botero Lopez comes from the small Colombian town of La Ceja, which translates as “The Eyebrow” in Spanish. In 2010, Lopez began his undergraduate studies at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia studying Civil Engineering. After graduating in 2016, Lopez gained engineering experience at home in Colombia before transitioning to the United States and joining the ASCC Team in 2018. Lopez, alongside his laboratory team, is developing a methodology to evaluate the basal stability of column-supported embankments. This research seeks to enhance the structural integrity of bridges while prioritizing the sustainability of their manufacturing.
Many know Colombia as home to some of the world’s best coffee. However, Colombian culture is richer than their coffee with traditions of dancing, carnivals, and delectable eats. Widely considered the salsa dancing capital of the world, it is no surprise dancing plays a large part in Colombian culture considering the variety of festivals and carnivals that take place in the country every year. 
Beyond the cultural heritage, Colombia is home to some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes and 10% of the world’s biodiversity. Mystical landscapes such as the Caño Cristales river, also known as the “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow” capture only a small part of the natural beauty in Colombia. 
Lopez, alongside Dr. Arron Gallant and his team, is developing methodology and technology in soil-structure interactions for the construction of greener and studier transportation tools. Growing up in the vast topography of Colombia, Lopez understands the importance of preserving the precious landscapes and biodiversity of our world and, through his research, is part of the greater mission of the ASCC to do just that.
José Luis Colón Quintana, Staff  – Mayageuz, Puerto Rico
Born and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Colón Quintana is a Post Doctoral Research Assistant here at the ASCC. During his undergraduate studies, Colón Quintana studied mechanical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez where he had the opportunity to work with a variety of materials.  However, he found himself particularly interested in manufacturing polymer composite materials. During his undergraduate experience, Colón Quintana participated in a research experience program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He later went on to pursue an M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Puerto Ricans make up around 10%  of the United States Hispanic population, making them the second-largest Hispanic group in the country.  Puerto Rican culture, like many Hispanic cultures, is vibrant and full of life. Singing, dancing, and sharing food and drink are all important aspects of Puerto Rican culture, as they are to other Hispanic cultures. The Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, held in Old San Juan, is  Puerto Rico’s largest celebration where one can see the island’s culture unfold in a multi-day celebration. 

Now, Colón Quintana research primarily focuses on understanding polymer processing, and the material characterization of fiber-filled systems. His research makes it possible to implement bio-based additive manufacturing on a larger scale, making large-scale 3D printing a possible solution for a variety of global issues. Through researching recyclable and bio-composite materials, Colón Quintana’s research plays a larger role in the ASCC’s vision for a more sustainable tomorrow.  

Hispanic Heritage Month is more than the space between September 15 and October 15th, it is a pause to recognize the incalculable contributions of Hispanic and Latinx persons and, for us at the ASCC, our Hispanic researchers and staff. The breadth of their cultural experience and how it charges the unique perspective and value brought to our research endeavors can not be understated. We will keep celebrating the heritage of our co-workers and appreciate the seasoned expertise that only they can bring to our lab. 

A note from our Author, Elizabeth Dalton:
Throughout my life, I have struggled to tackle my own Hispanic identity as it was something that was always present, yet seemingly out of reach. My mom is half Puerto Rican and has always tried to keep what heritage she could alive within our home. However, this was not without a great deal of struggle, as my non-Hispanic family was not accepting of our heritage. As a result, the Spanish lessons my mother used to teach me ended and the lively music and dancing that used to fill our home disappeared, only to be witnessed when few were present. 
The one way my mom kept the culture alive was through food. Despite the resistance we received from our non-Hispanic family, no one could deny how soul-healing the food was. No nights were better than the ones when mom would whip up arroz con gandules with a plate of hot fresh tostones to accompany the meal. I later learned as an adult that this dish is supposedly meant to be served around Christmas, however, it was a year-round staple in our home growing up and it is something I continue to make regularly on my own. 
Growing up we also kept ties with our Puerto Rican relatives as strong as possible, despite living so far away in a tiny corner of Maine. Regardless of what efforts my mother made to keep our heritage alive, it still left me with complicated feelings surrounding how much heritage I could claim feeling so far removed from it. Hispanic heritage can be a complicated matter for the many people it encompasses. Through the experiences shared in this post, including my own, I hope people come to learn more about the depth of Hispanic Heritage; Whether it comes from those who have rich cultural ties to their Hispanic heritage or those who struggle to identify where they belong. 

Contact: Elizabeth Dalton, elizabeth.dalton@maine.edu