Oscar is a metallurgical engineer who has led innovations in university education, promoted STEM, and advanced research on composite materials and nanotechnology.
How did you choose to attend UW-Madison?
In my home country, Argentina, upon my last college year, I worked for a team in a materials research center dedicated to aluminum alloys. Among the articles I read, two authors stood out: Professor John H. Perepezko and Carl R. Loper Jr., both faculty of UW-Madison’s materials science & engineering department. Those days, emails were still inaccessible for many, so I sent a letter to Professor Perepezko indicating my interest in pursuing a master’s degree under his guidance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Which engineering professor or class made the greatest impact on you?
Professor Loper had a contagious passion for teaching. His course on multicomponent phase equilibria was an eye-opener. I owe much to Professor Donald Stone, whose sophisticated approach to the mechanical behavior of materials was crystal clear to me. Then, I am undoubtedly a Perepezko student. In his lab, I learned to do research: Use your resources to the maximum. In my research group, I convey the same message to my students: Be creative and productive but frugal and practical. In my PhD studies under Loper, I lived the best times: The thrill to melt 300 pounds of cast iron and work in the foundry has been an unmatched experience. His teachings and the experience of Professor Richard Heine, his thesis advisor, are amongst my fondest memories.
As a student, how did you spend your free time?
I partook in relevant, high-impact student organizations. Thus, I came into contact with a now-extinct student and community organization called Community Action on Latin America (CALA). Eventually, I became its president for several years. CALA was founded in 1973 as an organization defending human rights in the Americas. Through CALA, I became aware of how influential conscientious individuals can better the life of the less privileged through activism and a representative democratic system.
What advice would you give students in your discipline today?
Be ready to think out of the box. But, to do so you need training, see new things, experience new things, learn from other fields. I took special care in training my female students, teaching them to fight hard for their rights, to demand equality, to become leaders, not followers. To my own students, besides showing them the beauty of the field, I instilled the need to pay forward and to give back to the community, mainly because all of them pertain to an underrepresented and underprivileged minority. I tell them that this is the time to shine and that, in shining, they illuminate the path for those coming behind.
Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?
My role model has been my mother, a working-class lady who spent 30 years of her life in a steelmaking plant. She would leave at 6:30 a.m. and come back at 5:15 p.m. She had been trained as a teacher but never worked as such. With that role model, one cannot go astray in life.
Anybody you’d like to mention?
My wife, Jaquelina Alvarez, is also a UW graduate. She got her master’s degree in the former School of Library and Information Studies. We’d married before coming to Wisconsin in 1990.