Mapping the ocean floor: student’s aspirations turn into reality
Sophia Esteban encourages her peers and prospective college students to find something to be passionate about and stick to it. Esteban, a sophomore in the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University, has pursued her own advice and followed a passion to eventually work for the ocean view maps department at Google, Inc.
“I want people all around the world to be able to explore our ocean with a simple click of their mouse,” Esteban said. “In order to do that, I want to develop technologies that will map our oceans, identify species and collect data to help us get a sense of the vastly unknown.”
Contrary to most prospective ocean engineers, Esteban always feared the ocean when she was growing up. Dr. Sharath Girimaji, ocean engineering department head, caught her attention when he spoke of the student organizations in the department and the things students were working on. The Aggie Ocean Discovery XPRIZE team’s mission spoke directly to her passion.
“I was drawn to ocean engineering when I heard Dr. Girimaji talk about the XPRIZE team and the amazing things they were doing,” Esteban said. “I knew that ocean was the major for me. These people were living out my dream to map the bottom of the ocean, and I just had to be a part of it.”
The Aggie Ocean Discovery team is vying for the $7 million prize in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition, challenging competitors to develop a means to map the ocean floor by overcoming the initial challenges of the extreme environment, cost and technology. Thirty-two original teams of industry professionals and higher education research teams answered the call to attempt the challenge. Nine final teams currently remain for the last round of the competition that will be held in December 2018.
“Before XPRIZE, I was on the Texas A&M Women in Engineering VEX robotics team and that was a great experience with an amazing cause to advance women in the field of engineering,” Esteban said. “I am also a member of the Texas A&M Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and it has taught me so much about teamwork, leadership and hard work.”
By joining the XPRIZE team, Esteban only expected to gain experience through the three-year journey of the competition. She quickly learned she would gain so much more.
“I went into this project knowing absolutely no one and nothing, but now I have people that are like moms and dads to me at Deep Down Inc. and my teammates are my annoying brothers who are always there for me,” Esteban said.
Her greatest accomplishment thus far into her collegiate career is joining the team and advancing to the final round of the XPRIZE competition.
“It has been so rewarding learning from industry professionals, meeting CEOs of major companies and learning what it is really like in the world beyond college,” Esteban said.
While she may have decided to join the team all on her own, Esteban credits an entire support system for where and who she is today.
“I have to thank my parents for raising me to be a strong, intelligent young woman, and for supporting me in all my endeavors,” Esteban said. “I also have to credit Dylan Blakeslee for giving me a chance to grow myself as an engineer and show the world what I am made of. Lastly, I have to thank Ron Smith and Mary Budrunas for really making the impossible task of undergraduates competing against industry professionals possible.”
Esteban encourages students to utilize all resources at their fingertips to explore various career fields and get involved as soon as possible.
“Had I known I would be in this position, sometimes working until two o’clock in the morning designing things or modeling structures, I would have taken those classes in high school,” Esteban said. “Really take advantage of the time you have now to put into learning and exploring and I promise it will pay off ten-fold in the long run.”