Hajim Spotlights

Clara Martinez Rubio

Class year: 2020
Major: electrical and computer engineering, computer science
Challenge: providing access to clean water

Clara currently serves as the President of the University’s student chapter of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Clara is also an outstanding volleyball player, who has competed in four national championships, was co-captain of the Spanish National Team, and earned All-UAAA honors three years in a row as the co-captain of the University of Rochester team. She’s also a black belt in Judo.

She is majoring in both ECE and computer science because “I wanted to have a diverse and broad knowledge not limited by hardware or software. I enjoy being a generalist, being able to trouble-shoot with a wide lens and then dive into the specifics.”

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges Program?

Experiencing first-hand the impact that lack of water has in a community has always made me reflect on how water shouldn’t be a privilege, but rather a human right. From a young age it has been my intention to help this cause, although I never knew what shape that would take. I decided that majoring in engineering would give me a hands-on approach on the kind of technology needed to tackle this worldwide issue. When I came across the Grand Challenge Program I didn’t hesitate to get involved. Learning from other students who are passionate about the same issues has given me a much greater sense of urgency and the tools and opportunity to present my ideas effectively.

Which of the five competencies did you most enjoy completing? Why?

My personal favorite was the entrepreneurship competency. I got to pitch my idea to people and find a team. We have been working for a few months to enter the 2020 Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition, with the same idea I presented as my Grand Challenge, to provide access to clean water. Pitching the idea to very talented people from different backgrounds allowed the idea to grow so much faster, finding flaws that I didn’t consider with my electrical engineering background.

Are there things you learned while completing the competencies that you would not have learned in a classroom or lab? For example?

Being part of the program has allowed me to network with students and faculty who I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. It also allowed me to discover many events and opportunities to get involved with, such as Water for South Sudan, a local nonprofit that creates and monitors safe access to drinkable water in remote rural areas of South Sudan.

After you graduate, do you think you will want to continue to work or pursue graduate studies in the same field as the challenge you tackled? How will you do that?

I would always like to be involved in sustainability issues. If it cannot be through my job I will for sure be involved with local nonprofits or volunteering so I can keep making a change.

How did being at the UR help you complete this program?

The interdisciplinary nature of this school allows and encourages you to explore outside of your major. I have taken several sustainability classes, as well as gotten involved with events related to sustainability and global warming hosted by university groups.

What is the value of the Grand Challenges program for a student?

It shapes your knowledge to have a real-world application, to make a positive influence in the world. Realizing that your education, even while still a student, can make such a big impact is so rewarding. Moreover, through its competencies it broadens and strengthens your skill sets, giving you more angles of approach to any given problem.

Click here to see Clara's poster.