By From the Lowell Sun
By Marie Donovan
When Paula Bustos was 17, her family immigrated to the United States from their native Colombia to find greater economic opportunities.
Just five years later, Bustos has managed to land on her feet, earning a national HENAAC Scholar award and a $5,000 scholarship for her excellence as an Electrical Engineering major.
HENAAC, which honors students from an Hispanic background, gave out 76 scholar awards this year. Only three award recipients were from Massachusetts; the other two, Madeline Salazar in mechanical engineering and Anthony Valderrama in electrical engineering, go to MIT.
"HENAAC scholarship honorees are a shining example of the next generation," said Ray Mellado, CEO and chairman of Great Minds in Stem, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the HENAAC awards to promote effective recruitment, recognition, and retention of Hispanic talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "We are thankful to sponsoring organizations that allow us to recognize and award scholarships to these high-caliber Latino students," Mellado added.
Award recipients were selected by a selection Committee comprised of professionals from industry, academia and the government. In addition to their scholarship, recipients were recognized in TECHNiCA Magazine.
Bustos' award also earned her a recent four-day all-expenses paid trip to Long Beach, Calif., for the HENAAC awards ceremony.
"I also participated in the college bowl. It was a really good time, it was so much fun," Bustos said.
A resident of Lowell who is also working toward a minor in business at UMass Lowell, Bustos was sponsored by Lockheed Martin. She has been accepted into a dual matriculation program that will earn her a BSEE this May and an MSEE in May 2011, both from the university.
"They offer a program here that's five years," she said.
In addition to academic excellence, the HENAAC award honors students who contribute to the Hispanic community. Bustos has served as both vice president and president of the UML chapter of The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
"We are about 30 people in the chapter," she said.
Bustos has also volunteered to help her mother with activities for the Colombian Committee of the Merrimack Valley.
After emigrating from Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, Bustos spent two years at Somerville High School. Her English was weak when she first enrolled here.
"I had a little bit back in Colombia; you have to take classes since you're very little," she said.
However, "I wasn't really fluent," Bustos said.
She earned acceptance into the National Honor Society anyhow and was elected captain of the school's girls tennis team, where she played first singles and was honored as a league All-Star.
Bustos' parents, Miguel, a machine operator and Sara Sanabria, who is involved with The Colombian Committee of the Merrimack Valley, now live in Andover.
"My mother is going to school, too. She's learning English," Bustos said.
Bustos' older sister is a medical student in Brazil. She also has a younger sister, Lina, who is a Chinese and marketing major at UMass Amherst and another sister, Sara, who is a freshman at Andover High School.
After her graduation, Bustos said she'll pursue a career in product development, either in the aviation industry, medical equipment or national defense.