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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

UC San Diego's Enlace STEM program bridges two countries

In a unique program, a love for science goes beyond borders.

SAN DIEGO —

Once divided by the U.S./ Mexico border, Frida, who lives in Tijuana, and Mariah in San Marcos, are united by their love of science through UC San Diego's Enlace program.    

"The word means to join in both Spanish and English,” said Olivia Graeve.

Dr. Graeve, a UCSD alum and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, created the program. 

"The focus of the program is actually to join students from both sides of the border in research experiences here on our campus,” said Graeve.

Frida and Mariah, along with 120 other high school and college students from Mexico and the U.S., are paired for seven weeks, attending lectures and conducting cutting-edge research.

“It's really cool, I mean, I get to practice my English and she gets to learn Spanish,” said Frida.

Here in the structural engineering lab, the team is researching disaster mitigation.

“We just want to figure out more about this material and every day use materials under damage,” said Mariah.

They're focusing on shock waves and materials for disaster prevention applications.

“I’m interested in architecture and structural engineering so they both go hand in hand,” said Frida.

In the chemical and materials engineering lab, Enlace students research new battery technologies for renewable energy.

"[It’s] an eye opening experience for them to be able to see what is world class research and what is that all about and if they show up not convinced yet about a PHD, they certain leave convinced of a phd,” said Graeve.

Born and raised in Tijuana, Graeve embraced science and  bi-nationalism at a young age.

“I've had to cross that border thousands of times in my life,” said Graeve.

“For me, San Diego and Tijuana are one city where there happens to be some kind of border in between but I almost don't even see that border anymore,” said Olivia.

Her passion for science and engineering emerged in her homeland. The professor went on to earn a PhD in materials science from UC Davis, then made history when she returned to UCSD as a professor at Jacobs School of Engineering.

 “I was the first Latina engineering professor ever to be hired at UCSD,” said Graeve.

She's now opening doors and inspiring others. 

“I  wanted to know what it's like to be in the laboratories because it is really interesting and I want to start my own research someday,” said Frida.

"It brings a different world view into the sciences and engineering when we open the doors of science and engineering into the populations that have traditionally not have been a part of it,” said Graeve. 

Applications for the 2020 program will open soon. Click here for more information.