Engineering Senior, Motivated by Family, Follows Path of Distinction
Having lived his entire life in the Dallas area, Alex Moreno prepares to embark on a new journey.
The electrical engineering senior graduates from The University of Texas at Dallas this week as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship winner, like his brother before him; as a former president of the UT Dallas chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE); and as a future graduate student accepted to the University of California, Berkeley electrical engineering and computer science program.
Perhaps most important, the first-generation college student leaves home as the third of three siblings with bachelor’s degrees, from parents who pushed their children to seize an opportunity that they never had.
“My dad was taken out of school when he was 8 years old,” Moreno said. “My mother was never in school, never had that opportunity.”
Moreno’s parents met in Dallas. Education was emphasized throughout his childhood, making an impression in the process.
“My mom told me one day when I didn’t want to go to school, ‘Alex, I was robbed of the opportunity to go to school,’” Moreno said. “‘I wish I had had the education to be a secretary, to be this or that, to have choices.’ That moment stuck with me; I can see it to this day. So we never missed a day of school — that was her thing.”
“My mom told me one day when I didn’t want to go to school, ‘Alex, I was robbed of the opportunity to go to school …’ That moment stuck with me; I can see it to this day.”
For Moreno, his older brother’s and sister’s accomplishments served as extra motivation.
“We’re all one year apart — Salvador Jr., Lizbeth, then me,” Moreno said. “When my brother went to UT Dallas, I thought, ‘Wow, I should probably go to college.’ Then my sister went to UT Arlington. Then I had to do it.”
Moreno arrived at UT Dallas as an AES Distinction Scholarship recipient brimming with determination. Dr. Kenneth O, director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE) and Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair, recalls not knowing what to make of Moreno at first.
“When I first met Alex, I thought he was a little aggressive — too aggressive, to be honest,” said O, who is also a professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “He came across as somebody who has all these plans and is going to go step-by-step toward his goal. But over the time I’ve known him, he’s proven that his capabilities match his ambitions.”
Moreno became an intern at TxACE, where he and O have collaborated on terahertz technology that may allow users to see through walls and identify threats, such as guns. O sees Moreno as a potential leader, saying that “We’re really lucky to have him at (TxACE).”
Moreno describes his philosophy in simple terms.
“My goal is to be able to do something with my life that enables me to look back and say, ‘I was able to help people,’” Moreno said, “whether it’s through renewable energy, or it’s in terms of safety, like the research I’m doing with TxACE.”
Moreno has plenty of praise in return for O, who became his advisor.
“Dr. O gives wonderful advice, he’s a great professor and fully supportive of whatever research I want to do,” Moreno said. “It seems like, at many places, the undergrads aren’t expected to do that much research. Dr. O treated me like a grad student, and I really appreciated that.”
Moreno sees in UT Dallas an entity quite like himself, dedicated to perpetual improvement.
“That energetic environment is what I like about UT Dallas,” Moreno said. “There are a lot of new things, a lot of movement, of change, of flexibility — it’s not rigid.”
Moreno isn’t singularly focused — his achievements as president of the local chapter of SHPE reflect a deep commitment outside of his schoolwork and research.
As regional professional development coordinator, he helped build an internship and mentoring program that will be implemented across seven states. Members of the UT Dallas chapter also mentored underclassmen and raised funds through corporate sponsors such as Texas Instruments, Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin and Goldman Sachs.
Moreno credits his experience at UT Dallas for opening many doors, but he’s looking forward to what awaits him in California.
“The Berkeley Wireless Research Center is very similar to TxACE, and there are professors there who collaborate with Dr. O,” Moreno said. “Wherever I interviewed for graduate school — Stanford, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon — they all know Dr. O.”
As he receives his UT Dallas degree and looks toward knocking out his next goal — a PhD from Berkeley — Moreno said his family will be close in his thoughts.
“I don’t think our parents knew for sure we could do this, but they tried their best to make this happen,” Moreno said. “Growing up, there were a lot of struggles. What my siblings and I are doing makes that worthwhile. All the struggles that they went through — that we went through — were worth it.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].