Combining a love for robotics with a desire to help others

When Hugo Salom arrived in America from Venezuela, he barely knew English, much less imagined that he would one day be honored with the prestigious ExxonMobil Diversity Scholarship.

3D scannerHugo Salom
Eddy Perez/University Relations

But three-years later, not only does he speak fluent English, has his tuition paid in full, maintains a 3.88 GPA, and is quickly becoming an expert in robotics, he also generously takes time out of his hectic schedule to give back to younger students as a College of Engineering peer mentor. And it isn't just to round out an already impressive résumé; it's to inspire others the same way a family member inspired him.

Hugo, a sophomore in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, focuses on the field of robotics, in large part due to his father, an electrical engineer, who started a robotics program at Hugo's high school and encouraged him to get involved. This experience inspired and motivated him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and to inspire others in the same way.

His experience led to his involvement in the LSU College of Engineering Peer Mentors Program, where he is the Robotics leader. He trains incoming mentors who will help high school and middle school students compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Competition.

We managed to get a few moments with Hugo in-between his numerous activities to talk about what has led him to this point and generally what makes his “gears” turn.

LSU: Hugo, what led you to choose LSU's mechanical engineering program?

Hugo: I had a lot of opportunities coming out of high school as president of my robotics team, but after I did my research, I realized that LSU was outstanding and knew it was the only choice for a mechanical engineering degree.

LSU: Where do you see your degree taking you upon graduation; are you thinking about graduate school or do you want to go directly into the workforce?

Hugo: As of now, I really want to go into the oil and gas field. I have a co-op this fall with ExxonMobil, so I will be able to be very hands-on there, but mechanical engineering gives you so many options that I know I can get a job as soon as I graduate.

LSU: How can your interest in robotics serve you in the oil and gas industry?

Hugo: Robotics is all “thinking outside the box,” solving problems, creating something different, and, in robotics competitions for example, just working harder and thinking differently than others. These qualities are what employers look for; it's more about the thought process than the actual tangible work.

LSU: How did you first learn about the ExxonMobil Diversity Scholarship?

Hugo: By working with the STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP), I met people in in the College of Engineering, who told me I should apply for one of the diversity scholarships. The interesting thing is that I was considered for the ExxonMobil co-op, which I will be working in during the fall semester, before even knowing I had received the scholarship. It was perfect.

LSU: What kind of impact has the ExxonMobil Diversity Scholarship had on your life?

Hugo: ExxonMobil has made a great impact in my life and my family's lives thanks to their generous contribution for supporting me financially and academically. My ExxonMobil mentor, Eric Valenciano, has been a great help for every moment we worked together and I could not have done many things if not for him. I feel like I've been raised to the next level, which will soon lead me to engineering career and the ability to impact other people just like Eric and ExxonMobil impacted my life.

LSU: Speaking of impacting others, with your obviously large workload, what made you want to add mentoring; did it stem from your life experiences?

Hugo: When my dad taught me about robotics, it really inspired me to say, “Wow, maybe I could be the same person to younger kids as my dad was to me.” It's that sense of inspiring others that really means a lot to me.

LSU: As an ExxonMobil Diversity Scholar, what would you tell others thinking about attending LSU about the opportunities for underrepresented populations?

Hugo: I have met people from all over the world here. LSU is diverse; you just have to put yourself out there on campus and meet people. Not only are you building your future academically at LSU, but you can also get to know your professors and meet industry leaders to network for future jobs, which is almost as important as maintaining your GPA. And, regardless of what you're thinking of majoring in, be passionate about it. If you're doing something you're not passionate about, it's not going to work.