First Luis Bernal Memorial Student Award

Aerospace Engineering’s Ericka Mendez Velazquez is the first ever recipient of the award honoring Professor Bernal.

In January, the Aero Students Award Committee selected the first recipient of the Luis Bernal Memorial Student Award, Ericka Mendez Velazquez. Mendez Velazquez was chosen for her demonstrated notable improvement in her academic record from previous years.

Before starting college at U-M, Mendez Velazquez was not sure what she wanted to do. “Coming from a small town, there were never opportunities for me to explore different majors, but the Aerospace department, alongside my amazing advisors, helped me realize that Aerospace is a passion of mine,” she writes. 

Mendez Velazquez ended up becoming not only a stellar student, but also actively involved in many extracurricular aero projects and orgs, such as MASA, AIAA and WAA. During her time at U-M, she obtained various internship opportunities that exposed her to different aspects of the Aerospace industry. After spending five years pursuing this career, Mendez Velazquez will be graduating this semester with honors, and is set to pursue a Master’s degree in Space Engineering through the CLaSP department. This master’s will allow her to learn about the design and operating processes of complex space systems in order to apply this knowledge to real-life problems. 

This award will help her with her future studies.

Mendez Velazquez fondly remembers having known Professor Bernal as her academic advisor. 

“Professor Bernal and Powell both helped me regain my confidence in my academic abilities when I was struggling to make it through my courses,” she recalls. “Without his advice and guidance, I do not believe I would have the passion for the Aerospace Industry that I possess today.”

Professor Luis Bernal passed away in April 2021. During his 20 years at the University of Michigan, Professor Bernal became much more than a member of the faculty. He was a friend, colleague and a valued member of the U-M community. His world-class expertise and profound involvement with students made lasting contributions to the Aero department. Known for his generosity, sense of humor, optimism, and overall dedication to students, a fundraising campaign started shortly after his death to make the Luis Bernal Memorial Student Award possible.

“I hope that one day I will be able to make an impact on the Aerospace Industry just as Professor Bernal has,” she comments.

Krzysztof Fidkowski, aerospace engineering professor and chair of the award selection committee, comments, “It is fitting that the first recipient of the Bernal Award had such a close  connection with Luis. Ericka embodies his memory in her optimism, persistence, and dedication to her studies.”