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NASCAR's top female engineer details her rise in racing for ASU students

November 9, 2017

Alba Colon talks about youth in Puerto Rico, shares what she looks for in new hires

People used to show up at race tracks and ask Alba Colon where the engineer was.

“Hello! It’s me!” the tiny Latina told them.

The top female engineer in NASCAR racing and the NASCAR Sprint Cup program manager for 22 years, Colon spoke about her journey into engineering and racing at Arizona State University on Thursday.

She has worked with the teams behind Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.

As a schoolgirl in Puerto Rico, Colon’s hero was Sally Ride. Colon wanted to be the first Puerto Rican astronaut.

“I grew up in a household where there was no other option than to go to university,” she said.

In college she was the team captain of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Formula SAE chapter. Formula SAE engineering students build and race Formula-style cars at an annual competition. Colon started the chapter with four male students. When they traveled to the mainland for competition, “I pretty much learned we had no idea how to build a car,” she said.

General Motors hired her in 1994 as a data acquisition engineer.

“After you’re in motorsports you get hooked,” she said. Twenty-three years later, “I love my job.”

One of her first tests was at Talladega, testing a brand-new engine. She met Dale Earnhardt, who promptly told her she wouldn’t be in the sport more than a year.

“He didn’t even know me, what I could be capable of,” she said. “Many years later I learned that that was one of the ways Dale would push you to make things happen, but I didn’t know that when I met him. I got pretty mad at him and told him, ‘I’m going to show you what I can do.’ ... He helped me to get where I am today. If you push me and tell me I can’t do something, I’ll do it.”

She cited a rising number of woman and Hispanics getting into motorsports today. Forty percent of the NASCAR fan base is women, she said.

“I don’t regret anything I had to go through to get where I am today,” Colon said. Times have changed, she said. “Believe me, these things don’t happen anymore.”

Racing is becoming more and more technical, she told a roomful of mostly engineering students. Races are won in tenths of seconds. Every team has four or five engineers analyzing data. Simulation is a big new trend. Some engineers work only on tires.

“It is getting more and more technologically sophisticated,” Colon said. “Now you have so much data you don’t have time to study it.”

NASCAR is hiring mathematicians. “We need more people to interpret all that data,” Colon said. “Believe me, the technology is amazing.”

She gave job-interview advice about what she looks for.

First of all, “someone who is genuine.”

The word “we” is a red flag to her. “I know it was a team project, but I want to know what you contributed to the project,” she said.

“Did all you do was take classes?” She wants to see community involvement, volunteering, church, that type of thing.

Good grades still count. “GPA is very important,” she said.

“The fact that you were an Eagle Scout says a lot about you.”

And, finally, when an offer does come through, “don’t ever think a job is beneath you,” she said. Jimmie Johnson’s second engineer began in NASCAR by mopping floors. So did a well-known TV analyst she didn’t name.

What does she consider her greatest accomplishment? “Traveling and meeting people, and exposing myself to ideas I’d never thought about — that has been amazing.”

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

 
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ASU coalition brings awareness, support to on-campus international students

ASU coalition coordinates efforts for all on-campus international students.
November 9, 2017

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of profiles on ASU's diverse student coalitionsLearn more about the Asian/Asian Pacific American Student Coalition and Black African Coalition.

The Coalition of International Students (CIS) at Arizona State University aims to promote communication among all international student organizations in an effort to coordinate and consolidate activities of on-campus international students.

The CIS has nearly 40 full-time members and hosts various outreach events each year. Here, the coalition's president and vice president, Meitong Chen and Dickwyn Wong, share more information about the group. 

Question: How did the Coalition of International Students start? 

Answer: The coalition started quite a while back, and the main purpose for its inception was to represent international students as a union. We have gone through several changes over the years but our mission remains, which is to help international students feel represented at the university.

Q: What kind of activities does the coalition host?

A: CIS does quite a few things over the course of the academic year. We have Welcome Carnival, a Halloween party and our signature event, International Night each fall. In spring, we host a Career Prep Fair and Glo-Ball Night.

International Night is the coalition's biggest event of the year.


Q: What's your favorite part about the CIS? 

A: Our favorite part of the CIS is definitely the events that we host. We are always around mingling to have conversations with the participants and are sometimes surprised to hear about the unique cultural background that some students come from. 

Q: What's the biggest challenge your coalition has faced while you've been here?

A: The biggest challenge is definitely outreach. That was the biggest goal we set out to reach this year as we want to recruit and attract more international students. We have experimented with many different ways of outreach, but we are still trying to reach a group that we call "invisible" students. It's a growing problem as more and more international students come to ASU.

Q: What's your weekly schedule look like?

A: Our weekly schedule at CIS includes overlooking the internal and external operations of the organization. We work with some of our members on special projects and have conversations with other board members to keep everything on track.

Q: Do you have any events coming up?

A: International Night is just a couple weeks away. The event features a plethora of cultural food, performances and activities and will be at the Sun Devil Fitness Center's fields on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.

Q: How can people get involved?

A: We always need an additional hand when we're hosting an event, whether it may be small or large. Our social-media sites are a great way to look for opportunities to help during our events. [Find the group on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.]

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to people to know about the CIS?

A: While we are the Coalition of International Students, we always welcome everyone to our events and even to join as a member. Our office is located at the Student Pavilion (225J), and we're always there if you have any questions that you want to ask in-person.

 

Top photo: Representatives from the Coalition of International Students participate in ASU's Homecoming parade. 

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now