Cullen College Names Outstanding Student Award Winners
February 6, 2014
Melanie Ziems

The Cullen College of Engineering faculty members have made their final decisions on this year’s overall Outstanding Junior and Senior Award recipients, and the winners are Connor Fernandez, chemical engineering junior, and Ryan Hannemann, mechanical engineering senior.

In addition, faculty chose outstanding juniors and seniors in each undergraduate engineering program. The award winners will be recognized at the EAA Engineers Week 2014 Reception and Program on February 18.

Outstanding Junior – Connor Fernandez

When Connor Fernandez was a freshman at Lone Star College, he knew he wanted to enter into the engineering field, but he hadn’t decided on a concentration. “I was good at math, I was good at science, so I stuck with it,” he said. It wasn’t until he made the move to the University of Houston that he found the program best suited to his goals. “I always had an inkling to go to UH, but when I decided I wanted to be a chemical engineering student, I looked up the curriculum, and the curriculum is renowned around the country for being one of the best chemical engineering departments. That was my last major driving factor.”

Fernandez transferred to the UH Cullen College of Engineering as a sophomore and immediately got involved with the PROMES Program, or the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies. Fernandez now serves as an engineering workshop facilitator with the program. “Mr. Matthews was the first one that I really met from the department, and he was the one saying PROMES is the best bet to doing real well. And it has, I joined PROMES right when I transferred, I took their classes, I took all their workshops I could possibly take, and then I applied to be a facilitator,” he said.

While Fernandez has enjoyed academic success, it hasn’t always come easy. Specifically, he names Fluid Mechanics as his most challenging class. His strategy to conquer the class was unique: he talked to himself. He said verbalizing the problem-solving process to himself helped him master strategies. He also began working with groups where they could also talk about the processes out loud and teach each other. His advice: “If you speak to other people who think completely differently than you, and you intertwine your levels of knowledge, it creates a really good foundation of knowledge.” Studying with as many people as possible, according to Fernandez, is one of the quintessential keys to success in the engineering program.

Although still over a year away from graduation, Fernandez has big plans for the future. This summer, he’ll begin a process engineering internship with Styrolution, the global leader in styrene monomer, polystyrene and styrenic specialties. He wants to explore the possibilities of getting his MBA after college, and sees himself going into process engineering as a career.

In the meantime, Fernandez said he is thrilled with his choice to pursue his education at the Cullen College of Engineering. “[I like] the fact that we’re so close to industry professionals – go 20 minutes down the road and you hit a bunch of plants. All the connections that you get from all the organizations here are so close to the industry professionals, so you can get a really good idea of what you need to focus on when you’re taking classes or what you need to brush up on when you finish. That way you can really compete with the best of them. That’s one of the best thing UH has to offer by far.”

Outstanding Senior – Ryan Hannemann

Ryan Hannemann didn’t think there was a chance he’d win the Outstanding Senior award. After all, he was honored with the Outstanding Junior award just one year ago. “No one gets it twice,” he said. However, Hannemann’s tremendous academic achievements pushed him ahead of the pack once again in the 2013-2014 year.

Instead of moving straight from high school to college, Hannemann joined the army a year after he graduated. He spent 6 years in the service, including a combined 33 months on deployments to Iraq. On his deployments, he took some community college classes remotely. “I was doing good, and I was trying to find my way, and I did engineering in the army, and I thought it would be perfect to continue that on in the civilian world.” Hannemann says he is the first in his family to graduate college, but he comes from a long line of builders and creators. “It’s a genetic thing, I guess. We do all right at it, we’re interested in it, so [engineering] was kind of natural choice.”

When he was searching for colleges, Hannemann said a leading factor was proximity. “I had just finished doing all that time overseas and I really missed my family, so I wanted to look for something close… I had met a few people that worked in engineering here in Houston that went to UH, and they had really good things to say about. I started looking into the options here, and there’s a lot of convenience with UH, and it seemed like they have a really good grasp on the engineering marketplace,” he said. “People don’t know how powerful of a network we really have here, and it’s based largely off being in this epicenter.”

Now, after several years at UH, Hannemann says he thinks the most important advice he’s received has been to go to the Cullen College of Engineering career fairs. “If you’re interested in industry, you need to get internships early. The market is going to continue to get more and more competitive… so there’s not going to be the security we have now. You’ve got to be aggressive about getting internships, because that’s what companies want to see.” He also stresses the importance of maintaining a high GPA. “I’ve heard ‘grades don’t matter, just get the degree and you’ll get a job.’ But they do matter; it makes a world of difference.”

Hannemann took full advantage of the resources at UH, working three internships with DuPont and then securing an internship with Marathon Oil in the summer of 2013. After he graduates summa cum laude in May, he’ll sign on to work there full-time. Not long after, he and his wife Vanessa will welcome their first child.

Other outstanding student award recipients:
Biomedical: Tony Roshan, Cameron Shoraka
Chemical:  Michael Achierno, Connor Fernandez
Civil:  Francisco Carrillo, Ryan Byrd
Computer:  Brian Bojorquez
Electrical:  Ankur Lad, James Annis
Industry:  Maria Nacinovich, Rosie Ortiz
Mechanical: Ryan Hannemann, Navin Krishnasing
Petroleum:  Sergey Busygin, Brandon Englert

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