For Jess Choteau Outstanding Senior and first-generation college student Candelaria Alayon, studying mechanical engineering and joining the profession is just part of her larger mission. Hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada, Alayon regards engineering as much more than just mechanics, design or a great career. For her, it is also a unique opportunity to embrace and celebrate Hispanic women and women of color who strive for personal and professional success in a male-dominated field.
Support and empowerment
“As a Hispanic woman, I want nothing more than for other Hispanic women to be included in the dialogue between both male and female engineers to assess the challenges of the field and to further research,” Alayon said. With increasing numbers of women graduating with STEM degrees every year, the question becomes, for Alayon, how Hispanic women and women of color can be supported while they are students and once they have entered the workforce. According to Alayon, “making sure that women feel empowered within these fields is essential.”
For Alayon, however, the matter goes beyond mere acceptance: “It’s imperative that we, as a profession and the community at large, encourage and advocate for these engineers.” One vital way to accomplish this goal, Alayon advises, is to engage with organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the country’s largest association dedicated to fostering Hispanic leadership in STEM. Currently the secretary of The University of Tulsa’s student chapter of the SHPE, Alayon believes that such organizations are crucial for providing students with “a place of belonging” where they can find others with the same passions.
“Not only do organizations such as the SHPE provide campus connections, they also enable connections with others across the nation,” noted Alayon. In particular, through SHPE conferences “it [is] amazing to see so many other Hispanic females who are studying engineering empower each other and make connections with people of all different backgrounds.”
While Alayon admits that getting involved in extracurricular organizations can be tiring, for her, the benefits far outweigh the occasional exhaustion. “I try my best to be passionate about each and every group I join,” remarked Alayon, “and I do my best to ensure each one gives the same opportunities to others that they have given to me.”
Alayon’s energy and the results it has produced have certainly garnered the attention of faculty. “Candelaria has a unique ability to unify others,” said James Sorem, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences. In addition, he noted that Alayon “is an individual who is destined to succeed and who creates a path for others also to aspire.”
Striking a similar note, Department of Mechanical Engineering Chairperson John Henshaw commented that Alayon “gives new meaning to the term Golden Hurricane. She is an extremely gifted mechanical engineering student, an exceptionally hard worker, a natural-born leader and just an all-around fun person.”
Given the high esteem with which Alayon is held by Sorem, Henshaw and many others across TU, it is little surprise that she recently received two prestigious awards: the Tau Beta Pi Undergraduate Scholarship and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers John and Elsa Gracik Scholarship. “I am proud to have received these awards, and I want to find ways to make other students aware of these scholarship opportunities so they can reap the benefits of their hard work too,” Alayon commented.
Also a regular person…
With such an impressive résumé, it may be hard to believe that Alayon is also someone who is trying to relax and enjoy the rest of her time in college. Like most students, she goes on late-night Braum’s runs and makes coffee with friends for those nights where sleep is not going to happen. She also attends sports games, builds igloos during once-in-a-lifetime snowstorms, loves to read and travel, and spends free time with friends watching movies and going for walks.
After graduation next May, Alayon intends to work full time as an engineer while completing an MBA program focused on business communication. But, as busy as her life and as ambitious as her plans always are, Alayon never loses sight of what’s really most important: “At the end of the day, being a student at TU is, for me, about making memories with lifelong friends.”
Each University of Tulsa student’s story is unique. Some, though, are clearly more unique than others.
Consider electrical engineering rising senior Benjamin Bozworth. In addition to his formal studies, Bozworth is a member of two prestigious engineering honor societies: Tau Beta Pi and IEEE Eta Kappa Nu. In May, he was elected president of the latter. “Being invited to join these organizations has been astounding to me,” said Bozworth. “Sometimes I worry that if people really knew who I was they wouldn’t accept me or would reject me.”
So, what is there in Bozworth and his past that might cause such concern?
Being 31 years old in a crowd of early 20-somethings definitely sets him somewhat apart. But getting together with Bozworth for a chat quickly reveals that beyond mere calendar years it’s what he has experienced and accomplished during his three decades that has challenged, scarred, frightened, exhilarated, motivated and forged this determined U.S. Army veteran about to enter the final year of his undergraduate studies.
What doesn’t kill you
Bozworth’s rough and rutted road began when he was placed into foster care at the age of 3 or 4. “I stayed in the system and lived in several parts of Oklahoma until the Bozworth family in Cushing adopted me when I was around 15,” he recalled. “I am beyond grateful for them welcoming me into their home when they did. Not many people are willing to adopt teenagers, but the Bozworths adopted two other boys besides me and have three biological children of their own.” The stability this new environment provided enabled Bozworth to graduate from Cushing High School in 2008.
Halfway through his senior year of high school, Bozworth joined the National Guard, opting to become an infantryman. His plan was to do six years in the guard, get a degree, become an officer and then go on active duty. “I think I had some convoluted idea that by doing those things I could get people’s respect and admiration, like in the movies.”
Even though he had a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University, two days after his high school graduation Bozworth showed up for basic training. While he could have stayed home and attended university, after basic, he volunteered for deployment and was sent to Kuwait in fall 2008. “My time in the Middle East was nothing like I imagined a combat theater would be like,” Bozworth said. “No action, no gunfights, none of the stuff I had signed up to do. It was just hot and boring. Returning stateside in summer 2009, Bozworth married in October and then divorced four months later. “Typical young soldier stuff, really,” he commented.
“Being a veteran gives you a set of tools, but how a person uses those tools is up to them. I used those tools to cause myself a lot of unnecessary pain for many years until I found someone to show me how to use the tools correctly. Things like be early and stay late. Ask questions. Focus on the objective. Work as a team. Respect your peers and superiors.”
Back home, Bozworth also enrolled at OSU. During his third semester, he received word that deployment to Afghanistan was imminent. “I had started drinking and partying around the same time and decided that was – given the propsect of not coming home from battle – certainly more important than school, so I dropped out.”
Arriving in Afghanistan in June 2011, Bozworth’s eyes were opened to the reality of bloody, violent warfare. “This was nothing like my time Kuwait. We were told that the place we were going was a Taliban stronghold and that it would be a hell of a fight. What an understatement! For nearly three months, we took contact every day in some form. Mortars, rockets, ambushes. It was what I had signed up to do, but it quickly got out of hand. This takes a toll on a person.” On Jan. 22, 2012, Bozworth was injured by some shrapnel from an explosion and medevac’d to Germany. From there, he was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he spent several months recovering.
Back in the United States, Bozworth was fighting another powerful adversary: drug addiction. “I couldn’t keep a job, I was getting into trouble, and life got pretty bad for quite some time.” In 2013, he called Veterans Affairs for help and was sent for treatment. He stayed clean for a couple of months, but then things deteriorated further. That December, Bozworth made his first suicide attempt. “If I ever forget where I came from or how bad my life was I only have to look in the mirror at the scar on my neck from where I slit my throat and had to have 18 stitches put in.”
At that point, Bozworth was medically discharged from the National Guard. “I would like to say that was when I got clean and turned my life around. Unfortunately, it’s not. This went on for several more years: more trips to rehab, more suicide attempts and eventually homelessness.”
That vicious cycle, however, eventually came to an end. “May 21, 2016. That’s the day I got clean, and I have been clean ever since.”
Bozworth’s triumph over addiction and self-harm enabled him to resume his academic journey. After about a year, he enrolled at Tulsa Community College, unsure of what major to pursue but energized by his studies. After two years, during which he maintained a consistent 4.0 grade-point average, Bozworth graduated with two associates degrees in math and physics.
During his third semester at TCC, Bozworth applied to study at The University of Tulsa. “Calling myself a nontraditional student is a bit of an understatement, and I certainly didn’t think I would ever get in,” he recalled. “I had a lot of fear coming to a place like TU. I am nearly a decade older than all of my peers, and there is a stigma that goes with being in recovery, even if only in my head.”
One man’s “amazing” TU story
Life at TU has required hard work and, through that, Bozworth has achieved great personal and academic success. “Two or three semesters in, I was invited to join the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. This was astounding to me, going from two-time drop out to honor society! And then last semester I was invited to join the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu honor society. Somehow, I am now the president of the TU chapter.”
Overall, Bozworth says, his time at TU has been amazing. From feeling distant at first and worried about fitting in, he transformed into someone who feels part of a strong community. “I’m still astonished by the inclusivity of the student body, and the faculty are remarkable and always willing to take the time to help. That’s undoubtedly contributed to my success here.”
Bozworth also underscores the role of staff in helping him settle in and move forward, from Electrical and Computer Engineering’s department assistant Marla Zumwalt – “someone who I’ve been able to talk honestly with since I first got to TU” – to Cindy Watts, the university’s director of veterans affairs. In that role, Watts has had ample opportunity to get to know Bozworth. “He is such an amazing person and truly a pleasure to work with,” she said. “After all of his service for our country, Benjamin is now utterly dedicated not only to his studies, but also to supporting other student veterans across the university and to getting involved in the events we put on through the McKee Veterans Success Center.”
For Watts, Bozworth was the natural choice to receive the 2020-21 Chevron Student Veteran Association Engineering Scholarship. “When I called to give him the news, Benjamin was so thankful and honored,” she recounted. “He’s a man who never takes anything for granted.”
Digging into research
A highlight thus far of Bozworth’s academic journey at TU has been getting involved in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). During summer 2020, Bozworth studied solar panel efficiency as a factor of mounting technology.
“I wouldn’t say that I made any major discoveries that would change the solar industry, but it was still an incredible learning experience for me to work the project through from proposal, design, construction, testing and on to findings,” said Bozworth. “I had to design and build the mount and program the Arduino to control the servo so it was a good use of a lot of the different things I have learned so far.”
Bozworth’s TURC mentor was Chapman Applied Assistant Professor Nathan Hutchins. “Benjamin works hard and strives for excellence both in the classroom and in his research,” commented Hutchins. “He never complains that something is difficult. He just always does his best. One of the things that impresses me most is that he’s always asking questions in order to gain genuine understanding rather than an easy answer. As a researcher, he never fails to complete work on time and he’s 100% focused on improving whatever system he’s tackling. I am looking forward to seeing where Benjamin winds up after he graduates. I don’t doubt he’ll go on to do extraordinary things.”
In summer 2021, Bozworth packed his bags and headed to Borger, Texas, to take up an internship with Phillips 66 at the refinery. Working on high-voltage power systems, his main project entailed designing an automatic transfer scheme for all four of the facility’s main substations in the event of a power failure. The other part of this project has been critical motor analysis and protection.
David McCauley, an electrical engineer with Phillips 66, supervised Bozworth during his internship. “Benjamin has been making great progress on the projects we’ve assigned to him,” McCauley commented. “He’s a really quick learner and likes to get right in the middle of things. Added to that, his positive attitude and interesting sense of humor makes Benjamin really easy to work with. There’s no doubt this guy has a rewarding career ahead.”
“I cannot overstate how much I have learned through this experience,” Bozworth enthused. “From high-voltage distribution systems to motor controls and schematics to load analysis, it’s all been an incredible experience.” The fact that he has been assured that his automatic transfer solution will be implemented in 2023 underscores both Bozworth’s growing expertise and the company’s trust in him.
Looking forward to a smoother road ahead
As he looks to his final year of undergraduate studies, Bozworth is particularly keen on the senior design course: “I enjoy a good challenge, and I feel like it will be a great opportunity to put all the knowledge I’ve gained to practical use.”
After graduation, Bozworth hopes to find employment in the renewable energy sector. “There’s going to be an ever-increasing demand for energy across the U.S. and the globe,” he observed, “and I believe that to meet that need we’re going to rely more and more on renewable resources.”
“I really want to stress the importance of asking for help. No matter what you may be going through there is ALWAYS help available. In in my own experience, the strongest and most courageous people are the ones who ask for help, not the other way around.
“I did not do any of this on my own. I am only here as a result of the support of my friends and family. I especially want to thank my mentor, Richard Wolfe Jr., who saved my life by showing me that there is a different way to live. Richard always says it’s better to live with failure than regret.
“So, do the hard thing. Do the thing that you don’t think you can do because you may just be surprised at what you can accomplish. I know I am.”
Outside of work, he plans to continue lifting up other people who have struggled in ways similar to himself. Currently, Bozworth mentors a couple of veterans, helping to provide guidance and support. His efforts extend beyond former military, however, as he is active in the Tulsa recovery community, “just helping in whatever way I can.” Despite taking up about eight hours a week on average, this work “is something I’m really passionate about. It’s a small way to make a big difference in someone’s life. We all just need someone who understands our struggles. Kind people did the same for me when I was down.”
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