Brigham Young University student Andres Peña has had a unique education involving three universities, three languages, two countries and a salvage car. As a junior studying aerospace in mechanical engineering, he is working toward a career that will take his studies out of this world.
Peña had a fascination with looking at stars and listening to his uncle talk about space and physics as he grew up in Colombia. These experiences and interests led him to study engineering at the University of Columbia, where his uncle worked as the director of the observatory.
BYU was the furthest thing from Peñas' mind when he initially enrolled in school, but he was drawn to it after his mission.
“I really like the spiritual environment, the gospel related classes, and the research opportunities,” Peña said. “That's how I eventually got here, but that was not my original plan.”
When the pandemic sent him to live with his parents in Houston, Peña wanted to use the quarantine as an opportunity to keep learning — so he bought a salvage car. Working with his dad, he replaced the engine block and took the car from scraps to road worthy.
“I brought it with me from Texas to here, so it worked,” Peña shared. “Every time I drive, it feels great to know that I'm driving a car I built.”
Though the car was a confidence booster, Peña has far more ambitious ideas for future projects — rockets. He is pursuing an aerospace emphasis within Mechanical Engineering to help him get there.
“With all these private companies going back to space, there has been an awakening of people wanting to learn more about space and wanting to get there. I consider myself one of those, Peña said. “I also like mechanical engineering, so now with all this going on, I thought I could contribute; I could study and help build a rocket, or help someone get to the moon or to mars.”
Peña sometimes feels out of place among his peers, but he’s found community in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
"I like the sense of community that you can feel in the club. I get to talk to other people with similar backgrounds, even the language,” Peña said. “We really care about each other; they actually make you feel like family and like you belong there. We have our SHPE familia."
Peña has also realized the significance of other cultures in the globalization of engineering. Because Germany and China are both influential countries in the engineering world, Peña is studying their languages to better communicate with them in his career. He is doing an internship in China this summer to learn more about the language and the business world there.
“I know us engineers are supposed to know math and physics, but it's also about human relationships,” Peña said.
He also builds those human relationships through his side job and hobby — DJing. When Peña was featured in a BYU mechanical engineering Instagram takeover last semester, he shared his passion for mixing music at weddings, parties and other events. It’s been a part of his life since he was introduced to the mixing table by his dad at 14.
The thing that Peña loves most about engineering is his potential to move the world — literally.
“Mechanical engineering is all about movement, all about mechanisms,” Peña said. “Knowing that with your major you will help the world move forward in innovation and progression to get better life quality, better everything; that's something I really like about mechanical engineering.”
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