In 1998 Juan Eduardo Leal Lara's father, an industrial electronics engineer, was selected by the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico to establish a mechatronics program for Mexican universities. When he told his then eight-year-old son about this combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, and computer engineering, Lara's interest was immediate. "I wanted to learn more," says Lara, "and I asked my father to teach me about engineering."
Lara's father bought him a set of K'NEX® from the local Radio Shack® and they set to work building robots, and learning the workings of motors, batteries, and resistors. When he was 12, Lara began to study calculus, linear algebra, classical mechanics, and learned mechanical drawing using AutoCAD®.
His father worked hard to foster his enthusiasm for learning, and as Lara grew older, he knew he would make a career of engineering. But he learned another important lesson from his father: he should do all he could to inspire learning in others.
In March 2005, Lara began searching for a university mechatronics program and stumbled across MIT OpenCourseWare. He spent hours reading and exploring the site, making connections between what he already knew and what he still had to learn. "I have been using OCW regularly since that day because I find it useful to get ideas for my projects," says Lara. "It helps me learn more from my courses."
As a student at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey, Lara has joined with Sergio Sedas, who received a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, to create a program for first-year students through the High Performance Engineering Association (HPEA), which provides workshops and other project-based opportunities for students to practice what they're learning. The HPEA is working with the Entrepreneurship Program of the University so students can develop their projects and ultimately create businesses around them.
Lara says the most fundamental concept of HPEA is built on the MIT philosophy of learning by doing. He's based all of the HPEA material on MIT course materials from OCW: 6.002 Circuits and Electronics, 6.003 Signals and Systems, 8.01 Classical Mechanics, 18.02 Multivariable Calculus , and others. "I have found OCW very helpful," says Lara, "and I think it's a great opportunity for students to become extraordinary engineers."