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Engineering grad returns to alma mater to work on molten salt project


Vicente Rojas Aguirre, a native of Torreon, Mexico, is putting his engineering degree to work in ACU's NEXT Lab.
Vicente Rojas Aguirre is putting his engineering degree to work in NEXT Lab.

Photo by Scott Delony

Vicente Rojas Aguirre was perfectly happy with his job at an engineering consulting firm in Abilene, but the 2017 ACU graduate just couldn’t turn down an opportunity to return to campus and work at a job with the potential to impact lives all over the world.

So when a position in ACU’s NEXT Lab came open, Rojas Aguirre was ready. He had earned an engineering degree at ACU and was using those skills primarily designing and drafting pipe layouts for hydronic heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings. He is using the same skills at NEXT Lab, but now the pipe designs are for a molten salt loop used to cool nuclear reactors.

Inside NEXT Lab, students and faculty conduct experiments that will lead to global solutions to the world’s need for energy that is less expensive, water that is pure and abundant, and medical isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer. Rojas Aguirre is using the same skill set as he did at his previous job, but the results of his work at NEXT Lab could be transformational.

“Those were the things I identified with,” Rojas Aguirre said.

When Rojas Aguirre, who grew up and attended school in Torreon, Mexico, first started looking at universities to attend, he thought his ticket would be a tennis scholarship. However, his mother’s words proved to be right. He would go to college because of his brains and determination, not because of sports.

“I worked three different jobs simultaneously for four years to help pay for my expenses and tuition,” Rojas Aguirre said, “and still achieved a 4.0 GPA.”
In the future, he wants to pursue additional educational and professional opportunities that will allow him to contribute to NEXT Lab.

“I want to connect people in providing the right tools to create a positive impact in people’s lives,” he said.
Rojas Aguirre joined NEXT Lab Jan. 13. Dr. Rusty Towell, director of the lab, said that as NEXT Lab continues to grow, more hires like Rojas Aguirre will be needed.

“For NEXT Lab to achieve our goals will require a large, diverse team of very talented and motivated individuals,” Towell said.

Rojas Aguirre and other ACU graduates are models for future hires. Rojas Aguirre hasn’t stopped learning since he graduated from ACU in 2017, and the skills he developed at his previous job are being put to good use at NEXT Lab.

“Not only is Vicente responsible for helping to produce design drawings for several molten salt experimental systems,” Towell said, “he is responsible for archiving and standardizing all CAD (computer aided design) drawings for NEXT Lab.”

Rojas Aguirre’s desire to impact people’s lives in a positive way was something his professors at ACU also emphasized when he was getting his bachelor’s degree. And that is one reason he was glad he chose ACU. He graduated from an American high school in his native Torreon and was recruited by Daniel Garcia, who at the time was a multicultural marketing specialist in ACU’s admissions office. When Rojas Aguirre was deciding which university to attend, he asked his senior English teacher, Lora D. Head, for a recommendation letter and showed her the list of schools he was considering. One was ACU.

“Well,” Head said,” my brother is a physics teacher there.”

As it turned out, Rojas Aguirre would get to know her brother well. Dr. Tim Head teaches in ACU’s Department of Engineering and Physics and is Rojas Aguirre’s supervisor at NEXT Lab.

Rojas Aguirre loves ACU and his job at NEXT Lab, but Abilene is a long way from his home in Mexico and the family he left behind. His mother, father, and sister came to his graduation in 2017. They see each other a couple of times a year and keep in touch with weekly video chats. His parents miss their son but are pleased that he has found a home in Abilene.

“They’re happy that I’m able to pursue my dream,” Rojas Aguirre said.

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