College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

APEX-E: A hands-on start for multicultural Cyclone Engineers

Charisse Lee and Billie Alexander

Academic Program for Excellence for Engineers (APEX-E) is an 8-week summer program to support multicultural first-year students’ transition to college life. APEX-E scholars conduct hands-on research in the lab, connect with peer mentors, learn about campus resources, and earn credits in core courses.

Here’s what a few in the next generation of multicultural Cyclone Engineers had to say about their valuable APEX-E experience:

Nathaniel Cortez

I found APEX-E an excellent opportunity to transition from high school to college and from a familiar culture to a predominantly white institution. APEX-E was very inclusive, and I learned a lot about the many resources for Cyclone Engineers.

Visiting the different engineering departments was very valuable to me because I got a better understanding of what each department offered in terms of specific studies and career options. And APEX-E helped me focus on my goals for the future: I hope to address the climate change crisis as an electrical engineer.

Nathaniel Cortez, first-year in electrical engineering
Charisse Lee

I enjoyed being able to conduct research with a faculty mentor who was creating real-life solutions with their work. I met with grad assistants and other faculty who care about their research and wanted to share that with me.

The company tours were also very valuable. We explored different industries and where my degree and passion could fit into each one. Without APEX-E, we would not have this kind of opportunity.

Charisse Lee, first-year in industrial engineering
Manuel Santana

Being from Puerto Rico, the moment I heard about APEX-E, I knew it was something I could not pass up. I wanted to participate in as many activities as possible to enrich myself with new experiences – and the opportunities that APEX-E brought me, along with exploring campus and getting to know other minority students has been a blessing.

Manuel Santana, first-year in electrical engineering
Billie Alexander

I did a campus tour in 2021 and from that, I fell in love with the Iowa State campus and culture. Originally, I was hesitant to spend eight weeks away from home, family, and friends. Ultimately, my parents were the ones who helped me push myself out of my comfort zone and come to Ames to be part of APEX-E.

The biggest surprise about the APEX-E experience was how many resources were available to engineers. And the most valuable parts of APEX-E were the meetings with Dr. Ancar, the director of APEX-E, and the opportunity to connect with other APEX-E students, whom I am now close friends with.

Billie Alexander, first-year in materials engineering
Tharushi Jayatilleke

I applied to Iowa State because I was interested in physics and engineering. But, I lived in Sri Lanka for 18 years, so I was worried about making friends and dorm life, but APEX-E made that much easier.

All the programs with APEX-E are extremely helpful. Learning workshops and industry visits were educational and enjoyable. I was able to visit places in Iowa and able to get more familiar with the campus.

Tharushi Jayatilleke, first-year in electrical engineering
Chizimuzo "Zee" Nnamani

Iowa State sold me on the vast opportunities such as help that is freely offered and outstanding scholarships. In APEX-E’s industry visits, the presenters’ lessons and information they give are instrumental, and I am glad to learn all I can from their experiences and knowledge.

Someday as a Cyclone Engineer, I want to find better ways to access energy for our technology and ways we can better the environment and society. It is quite a task, and I won’t be solving every issue, but I will contribute my skills in engineering to a better future for the people of today and the next generation. I am still figuring out how I will do that, but I will start with getting my Cyclone Engineering degree.

Chizimuzo “Zee” Nnamani, first-year in electrical engineering