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Mexico vs. USA

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What is engineering education like in Mexico compared to the USA? This episode is an introduction to that topic as we talk to Hernando Garrido, a mechatronics and manufacturing engineer with the medical device company Fresenius Medical Care. He talks about his experience growing up in the Mexican school system near the US-Mexico border in Reynosa. He also compares it to his experience studying and working in Texas and California.

Our closing music is called “Wishing” by Soirée, used with permission, and you can find more of Soirée’s music on SoundCloud, user soireebeats.

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Pius Wong  0:00 

It's September 11th, 2017, and this is The K12 Engineering Education Podcast.


Pius Wong  0:12 

I'm your host Pius Wong, and we are continuing a series to try to get to know the educations of engineers from other countries outside the USA. This episode, I speak to Hernando Garrido, an engineer working in the USA, but who grew up in Mexico. How does engineering education in our nearest neighbor to the south compare to this side of the border? Listen up next.


Hernando Garrido  0:40 

So my name is Hernando Garrido. I am a mechanical engineer with a Master's degree in manufacturing engineering. Since I graduated, I started working for Fresenius Medical Care. I started in Reynosa as an automation engineer, and after a year, I moved out to Concord, California, where we designed peritoneal dialysis machines for people that have chronic kidney failures, mostly in charge of transferring design for manufacturability. What I basically do is look at the prototypes designs or new technologies that are existing and try to implement it into manufacturing for new devices or improved devices.


Pius Wong  1:40 

So you do a lot of the work after a lot of the design has been made.


Hernando Garrido  1:46 

Mostly, when we look at the design, sometimes it's a concept and engineering concept. But yeah, sometimes we have prototypes. For example, the machine that I am working right now, it's a prototype. But we had to make a lot of changes to be able to bring it into production for sale. But it's, yeah, it's what we call design for manufacturability. So we have to do this analysis. And sometimes we had to change the design to be able to manufacture it.


Pius Wong  2:24 

And you mentioned that you started out in Reynosa. So some people listening, they might know that that's in Mexico. You actually are from Mexico, right?


Hernando Garrido  2:32 

Yes, I was born in Coahuila about six hours from Reynosa. It's a little bit down south from the border. And when I moved to Texas to do my Master's degree, I was studying at night and working in the mornings in Reynosa. I had to commute every day.


Pius Wong  2:58 

Crossing the border every day.


Hernando Garrido  3:00 

Yeah, every day, for one year,


Pius Wong  3:02 

Can you talk more about the educational path that you needed to take to get to where you are?


Hernando Garrido  3:08 

Sure. So like I mentioned, I -- Well, first when I was in high school, I was very excited when my high school was one of the first in our city to get internet. So internet was not so popular. Well, actually in Mexico it was just starting to become available for everyone. But our school was one of the first ones. And I got really excited. I started, you know, attending classes for just learning how to use a computer and browsing the internet. And then, yeah, that's how I liked engineering. But then I decided that -- when I decided to join engineering was back in 2000. And I really liked this new -- I saw a poster that they were promoting a new career. And it was Megatron. And so I got really interested in it. And I always liked improving processes or doing things better. And so I got really interested in it. And yeah, that's how I got started in mechatronics. And then I think, after I finished, I worked a little bit in my hometown with an uncle that had a construction company, and I did some steel structures and learned a little bit of CAD.


Pius Wong  4:51 

Like computer-aided design.


Hernando Garrido  4:53 

Yes, CAD drawings and detailing structures. And then I decided that I wanted to go and study at in Texas. So I moved to Texas and started my Master's degree there. And in my first semester, I met the director of engineering for this company, for Fresenius. And he offered me a job, and he offered to pay for my study. So that worked out pretty well. So the company actually sponsored my Master degree. And it was very nice.


Pius Wong  5:34 

Yeah, that's really nice. I don't know how common it is to get a job right in school.


Hernando Garrido  5:41 

Yeah, well, I mean, I started doing a project with him. And I guess he liked my work or something. So he invited me over. And then he saw that I could handle projects on my own, more or less. With other engineers, he was like, always on top of them, and with me was more like, I could just take care of my of myself. And I gave him the results he wanted. And I guess that's what he liked about me. And the company was really good with me because they sponsored my full Master's degree, and then they offered me to a job in California.


Pius Wong  6:30 

Perfect. So what brought you or what attracted you to Texas in the first place?


Hernando Garrido  6:35 

Well, when I was doing my degree in Mexico, I took a year in Edinburg, Texas. And I liked the university, I liked the fact that the university offer students access to new equipment. The labs were fully equipped, and you pretty much have access to whatever you need to develop your skills. And what I liked about the campus was that they were really involved with several companies on projects. So the contact with different companies really helped me understand what were the challenges and how would I fit in working with those companies. So I had actually worked with Corning on a project there in Reynosa. But, you know, they came to the University and sponsored project. So that's what I liked about the US college system, that you have access pretty much to technologies and companies and projects. In Mexico -- it was a little different in Mexico. Their classes are more challenging. You have to really study and know all the theory. And then when you get to the exam, what you learn in class, it's not what you see on the exam. So you have to really use your mind. You have to be creative, because you also don't have access to a lot of new technologies. So you have to be creative in creating your own projects. And I guess that's good and bad, but it's good for an engineer. So you have to use your creativity and with less money, and with more or less your own resources you have to perform. And in the US, more or less everything is the exam was more or less what you saw in the problems that you see and are more practical, and real.


Pius Wong  9:09 

Did you know about what engineering education would be like in the US before you came over?


Hernando Garrido  9:16 

Well, yeah, yes. Because of those two semesters that I came to the US, I got a feel of how the classes were. I actually improved a lot, my GPA, because in Mexico, like I said, the classes are very challenging. And in the US, I got lots of A's and maybe a couple of B's.


Pius Wong  9:49 

Yeah, I was speaking with other engineering students who come to the US. Specifically, we did a podcast before about Indian students coming the US. And then Chinese students coming to the US. And they say similar things that you say, that the classes in the US aren't as difficult, in some sense, but they're more practical. I had no idea. And so you actually experienced education right on the border. You were very close to the US the whole time when you were a kid, right? Yeah, I'm curious what -- like in the US, they say that kids oftentimes are not interested in engineering, or computer science, or those fields. I'm wondering what perception Mexican kids have have about those fields when they grow up?


Hernando Garrido  10:39 

Yeah. So when I was in school -- I believe the when you're a kid, you don't -- You're not that interested, if you don't get a feel for -- or you don't see some demos or, you know, maybe some exhibition classes. And so a lot of the kids that are in school really don't get excited about it, more or less, when they have to join a career. They're forced to because otherwise they won't get any good pay or money. It's not because they liked it. That's my personal opinion. And it's funny that you mentioned it, because I had more experience on the US side, because when I started working, when I joined my Masters, one of my professors asked me to help with some high school kids. On our robotics team, they were participating in robotics.


Pius Wong  11:53 

The FIRST or BEST competition, something like that.


Hernando Garrido  11:55 

Yeah, FIRST robotics competition. Yeah, I had to go to several high schools and help their kids because they were going to that competition, and none of the robots were actually working. And only a few kids in a couple of high schools were really interested and trying to, you know, perform. The other ones were more like, just because they had to. And what I like about the US is that it's promoting, since high school, for kids to try to join engineering by presenting some exhibition classes, or demos, or by having these programs, like participating in FIRST. When I was in high school in Mexico, none of this existed. But through the internet -- and you know, I've been following up, and I get some high schools have been participating now in these kinds of programs. But that really helps when you're a kid, you get the feel for it. Some kids really like some kind of exposure.


Pius Wong  13:16 

And do you think that there are other differences between Mexico and the US? It sounds like American kids might have more access to engineering, but is that the biggest difference?


Hernando Garrido  13:28 

Yeah, the access to engineering and resources definitely helps. Maybe parents at home could also help if they encouraged their kids to at least attend some of these classes or seminars. I know that, for example, UTPA had, every summer, the University of Texas Pan American -- Now it's UTRGV. There is, every summer, they had a summer camp for high school. And this summer camp, they brought the kids and they had to build a bridge with popsicle sticks and see which team was able to handle more weight. Then they gave them prizes. So they motivate the kids during their summer to get a feel for engineering. And you know, they make it fun for them. So that's one of the things that I would say is lacking in Mexico. Mexico in summer, kids are just not doing anything like this. They're probably maybe playing some sports or hanging out with friends. Or instead of having access to this -- and this was very cheap for for students to join the summer camps.


Pius Wong  15:03 

Okay, it's not just for rich kids or something.


Hernando Garrido  15:05 

Yeah, I was a teacher there. I was a volunteer, and I was helping them. I was in charge of a group. And I can see that some of the kids liked it. I mean, there's obviously some kids who were not even interested, because they're kind of in the age where they're a little rebellious. But yes, some of them really got interested in it. I think it made a change in them. And probably they would become engineers, just like I did.


Pius Wong  15:36 

That's great. And do you think that there are any aspects of the education system in Mexico that are really good that maybe Americans should look at, that Americans should try to do?


Hernando Garrido  15:50 

Yeah, I like the fact that, since you have limited resources, and if you want to really succeed, you have to be really creative on what you do, and challenging the students in that way. Make them think out of the box. One of the things that I learned, and I really appreciate about my college in Mexico, was that anything that I was asked to do, even if I didn't know the answer, I knew how to get the answer and how to deal with it. And I see here even at work, for some people that were born and educated here, that if they don't know something, they would stop, and they would maybe ask someone to deal with it, or they won't resolve things. So one of the things that I really appreciate, is that you don't say, No, I don't know. But you say yes, let me see what I can do, and I will get it done. So that kind of thinking that really opens your mind and and really makes you a person that will always try to get the answer, and understand and be able to learn by yourself. Yeah, that's something that I really appreciate from Mexico.


Pius Wong  17:24 

How do you teach something like that, if Americans or American teachers wants to teach their kids to be resourceful and not give up like that? I'm just curious if you have any ideas of what they could do.


Hernando Garrido  17:40 

Yeah, and by the way, I also work with a lot of people from India, China, and I see in India, especially in India, I see a lot of resemblance on this. I see that they are more or less the same. They are very creative on getting things done, finding the answers by themselves. So sometimes, what I would recommend for teachers, or if they want to implement something like this, is to challenge their students by maybe asking them to do something that they know they can do.


Hernando Garrido  18:27 

But they don't have the resources to do it, or that they would have to, you know, find it by themselves. So don't give them all the tools and the resources, and see what they can come up with.


Hernando Garrido  18:42 

That way, they will also challenge themselves, and I guess it will come up naturally.


Pius Wong  18:54 

Hernando, that's really good advice. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak. And I'm sure all the teachers or other engineers listening, appreciate it as well. Do you have any final words of advice for any educators listening?


Hernando Garrido  19:11 

If it's for teachers that are dealing with high school kids, I would recommend them to to be creative in the way they present engineering and make it fun for the students. So make them think. Also excite them about the challenges of engineering. I think that will motivate several students, and they would become engineers eventually.


Pius Wong  19:48 

Thanks to Hernando Garrido for speaking. For notes, links, and transcripts related to this episode, please visit the show website k12engineering.net. And if you're listening on iTunes or Stitcher, please leave me a rating or review to help others find the show. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and all your other social media platforms of choice. Finally, you can financially support this show if you like it by donating on Patreon at www.patreon.com/pioslabs. That's patreon.com/pioslabs. Thank you so much to all my current donors on Patreon. You make this show possible. Our closing mmusic that you're listening to right now is called "Wishing" by Soiree, and you can find more of Soiree's music on SoundCloud. Check out this episode's show notes for links. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of my independent studio Pios Labs.