Hitting the Road
By Tracy Seipel
Daniel Mendoza ’21 on solar-powered car innovations, lessons in leadership, and a transformative four years at Santa Clara.
Four years ago, when electrical engineering major Daniel Mendoza ’21 was deciding on a college, a presentation by Professor Shoba Krishnan during a campus tour convinced him that Santa Clara was the place where he could thrive.
“Her joy, humor, and genuine love for the subject made me feel like there really was something fundamentally exciting about electrical engineering—it was kind of contagious,” Mendoza recalls of the faculty member, who later became his engineering advisor.
A Univeristy scholarship played a big part in his decision, but so did the intimacy of the campus, and its smaller class sizes.
“I knew it would be important to have a close group of friends,” he says, “and I felt like it would be easier to do that at Santa Clara.”
Now, as Mendoza approaches his virtual June graduation, the senior who became a campus leader, volunteer, and top engineering student believes that whatever the future holds, the lessons he learned at Santa Clara about himself, about Jesuit values, and his chosen field will serve him well.
A Time of Transfomation
“Santa Clara has transformed me and given me so many opportunities to learn in ways that I don’t think would have happened at another school,” says Mendoza.
Take his Senior Design Project. Along with three other seniors, he’s currently working on an innovation that centers on renewable energy—Mendoza’s great passion at Santa Clara, and the industry he hopes to work in.
“I began learning about the concept of global warming in high school,” he recalls. “I remember feeling like I had a responsibility to help solve that problem because growing up in Southern California, the fire season has always been part of my life.”
The engineering team’s so-called “mobile nanogrid” is intriguing for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors, but also wants the ability to tap into a portable power grid to run a laptop, phone, cooler, fan, and set of LED lights—all at once, if needed.
The solar panel system attaches to the top of a camper shell. It not only offers a large area to capture the sun’s rays, but creates minimal drag so it won't affect gas mileage.
While the panel is designed specifically for a camper shell, Mendoza believes there could be future applications for other automobiles.
Considering All the Impacts
“At Santa Clara, we also have to consider the sustainability impacts of our projects,” Mendoza explains. “And we have to consider ethical implications too. For example, you may be using something correctly, but if it fails, who gets hurt?”
Those kinds of questions are important to Mendoza, and he will take them with him when he leaves Santa Clara, along with practical experience that comes from teamwork in designing and creating something from start to finish.
“Rather than being handed something and told, ‘here are the goals, and here is the way to do it,’ we’re doing this from our own ideation to completion,” says Mendoza.
“It’s been fun, and at the same time, it’s given me a lot of confidence.”
Leadership opportunities at SCU helped him develop that sense of confidence.
As a freshman, he joined the Latinx Student Union (formerly MEChA-El Frente), where he became one of the two co-outreach coordinators and later served as treasurer.
A Big Accomplishment
Along the way, he helped to organize the group’s annual campus spring culture show, from publicity, to finding the right vendors of authentic food—including home-made Mexican tacos and El Salvadoran pupusas—as well as arranging performances. “It was a big accomplishment, because it was my first time kind of taking charge,” he says.
As an outreach coordinator for the same group, he oversaw a program with fellow club member Chris Wanis ’21 that every year invites Latinx students from the local San Jose and East Bay area to attend a half-day “Raza Day” (now called Raices) on SCU’s campus. The event offers the teenagers panels on admissions, financial aid, and on-campus life, as well as a tour.
Mendoza also has been a member of SCU’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where he is co-president this year. Both student groups, he says, helped him embrace his Mexican-American background, and the value of diversity in academia and the workplace.
“It just gives you an opportunity to become your best self, and not just through leadership,” says Mendoza, “but also through educational and social opportunities.”