San Jac Certified: From defending the court to defending her dissertation
04.05.2016 | By Jeannie Peng-Armao
Former volleyball standout pursuing Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering
PASADENA, Texas – When Bruna Menezes has her heart set on a goal, there's not much stopping her.
In 2009, she moved from Brazil to the United States to play volleyball at San Jacinto College. Her sophomore year was the season when her team took its sixth straight trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national tournament and finished as the national runner-up. With a lifelong passion for the sciences, she transferred to Prairie View A&M University to pursue a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. And if that isn't enough to prove that she's got some serious determination, Menezes is now working on her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan.
However, it was her time at San Jacinto College, she says, that connected her to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professors/mentors, gave her a "little piece of home" away from home, and an English as Second Language program.
"San Jacinto College honestly has great professors," said Menezes. "Their passion for science motivates you to continue pursuing this career path regardless of the difficulties in the subjects."
It is also where her former volleyball head coach, Sharon Nelson, who has a strong STEM background herself, encouraged Menezes to do well in both athletics and academics. Nelson holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology, and a master's degree in biochemistry, both from Eastern New Mexico University.
“Right away when Bruna arrived we knew that she had a great passion for success,” said Nelson. “Everything she does, I am sure, is done with a purpose and with an inner drive beyond the average student.”
Menezes knew her purpose on the court during one game when Nelson approached her to set. Having never played the position before in a game, Menezes accepted the challenge and reassured her coach and team that she would make it happen.
“I remember asking her to play setter, and she said, ‘If that’s what you need me to do, I will do my best,’” said Nelson. “She went in against the No. 1 team in the nation and pulled out a game win and had never set before in a game. She just believed.”
While helping her San Jac volleyball team move up in the NJCAA ranks, Menezes also studied under a number of professors, including chemistry professors Christopher Wild and Elisabeth Harthcock, who helped her transition into chemical engineering studies.
"Professor Elisabeth (Harthcock) was special to me because she is also from Brazil. She was a little piece of home in a foreign country as the adaptation to the new country was not easy at all," said Menezes.
Harthock remembers Menezes as very kind and humble with strong discipline and self-motivation to pursue study in the STEM fields.
“She was not happy just knowing something to score a good grade on the exam,” said Harthcock. “She wanted to learn the details of it because it would feel incomplete otherwise. It makes me very happy that she has decided to further her studies in chemistry, and inadvertently has become a model for other San Jacinto College students. There are no limits.”
In 2011, Menezes signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Prairie View A&M University to continue her education and volleyball career. At the university, she joined the Honors program and graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering with a 4.0 GPA and many honors including the Most Outstanding Engineering Student at the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering. As a Prairie View A&M Lady Panther, she helped the university win back-to-back Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Western Division Championships while earning multiple SWAC weekly honors including Offensive Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week. She went on to serve as an undergraduate researcher at Indiana University in 2013 and a process engineering intern at the engineering firm Stoller Africa in 2014.
Last Fall, she began her doctoral studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Menezes said that while she is undecided on whether she will choose a long-term career in industry or work in academia, she will work to make a contribution and help other women and minorities to pursue engineering and sciences, just as her San Jacinto College professors and head coach worked to inspire her through her community college experience.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.