Homemade Microphone Prods Student to Enter College
In January, Electronics Engineering student Gerardo Hernandez attended the AT&T Hack-a-Thon in Las Vegas and walked away with a First Place award and some big prizes – Alumni Director Leigh Stenberg recently sat down with him to discuss his winnings and hear his LACC story.
When Gerardo Hernandez graduated high school, he was, in his own words, “going nowhere”. Bouncing between service jobs at places like Papa John’s and Starbucks, Gerardo, born and raised in Silver Lake by his single mother—felt directionless and only interested in “women and music”. Trying to pursue the latter, Gerardo enrolled at the Los Angeles Recording School, but soon dropped out and went back to waiting tables at the well-known Flamenco restaurant, El Cid. It was there that a friend gave him the schematics to build his own microphone. It took Gerardo 16 hours to build, and after he finished he tested his work against other microphones on the market. His product was equal to a $2,000 microphone.
After building his own microphone successfully, Gerardo decided he needed to understand the science behind what he’d built and he enrolled in an electronics engineering class at LACC. For the first time, Gerardo loved what he was doing. After earning an ‘A’ in the class, Gerardo was hooked and realized the importance of taking his education seriously. He then met with academic advisors and mapped out his education plan, which included the goal of transferring to earn at B.A. in Electronic Engineering.
During the summer of 2013, Gerardo was invited by Physics Department Chair, Dr. Jayesh Bhakta, to spend the summer working with him in the LACC STEM Academy’s fabrication lab and learn how to use the CNC Milling machine. A CNC Milling machine integrates a computer with a milling machine in order to create parts with precise sizes and shapes.
As a direct result of this independent study with Professor Bhakta, Gerardo was able to secure an internship with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena in spring 2014, resulting in a part-time paid position this past fall. Currently, Gerardo is working on a project at JPL that will help detect if there is life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Eventually, the JPL scientists will send a satellite to Europa. A device Gerardo is helping to create will be fixed on that satellite to measure the level of energy on Europa.
On January 3, Gerardo received an invitation to the AT&T Hack-a-thon in Las Vegas. After arriving in Las Vegas at 3:00 AM for the 8:00 AM Hack-a-thon start-time, Gerardo and the other competitors had 24 hours to come up with an original design and invention using the 3-D printer and equipment provided. Within 24 hours, Gerardo and with the help of fellow LACC students, Raphael and Noel Zaragoza, created a belt for the visually impaired that vibrates at different frequencies – vibrating faster as a person moves closer to an object. For this invention, Gerardo won the Best Wearable Technology Utilizing a Deezmaker 3-D Printer Contest Award and won a portable 3-D printer of his own. He has begun the process of applying for a patent.
The next day, Gerardo participated in another hack-a-thon to develop a video game. Even though Gerardo had never used the software system before, by the end of the allotted time he had created a game he called ‘Rolla’, where players use the movement of the tablet to guide a ball through a maze while avoiding falling objects around it. For his work, Gerardo received a 3-D tablet called the FlightDeck Commander 3D – a new technology that does not require 3D glasses to see the objects in 3D.
In addition to his work at JPL, Gerardo is a tutor with Elevated Learning, teaching high school math to help students who were just like him. Gerardo started tutoring while he was volunteering at the LACC Office of Special Services where he tutored students from the Braille institute. Initially, he was paired with a 62-year-old Nigerian blind man and helped him earn an A in his Algebra 2 class eventually. Gerardo realized that if he could tutor this man and help him overcome the visual, cultural, and age difference, then he could tutor other students challenged by math and science assignments.
Gerardo’s Next Step
This past fall, Gerardo applied to six schools in California to earn his B.A. His first choice is UCLA so he can continue working with Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Later on this year, Gerardo is planning to travel to the South Pole with JPL to study magnetic fields.
You can learn more about the LACC STEM Academy and the resources we provide to LACC students on their website page. In addition, please consider supporting the STEM Academy so they can continue to provide valuable resources to students like Gerardo.