STEM: UTSA Karen Mendiondo


UTSA KMendiondo1

UTSA Environmental Science and Engineering Student Finds the Earth and Ocean to be the Ideal Research Laboratory

By Antonio Gutierrez

As a child, Karen Mendiondo found great fascination in the rocks and minerals she found and tucked in her pocket while hiking the White Mountains of her native New Hampshire and marveling at the scenic views. 

“I’ve always enjoyed nature, being outdoors, and climbing mountains to look down and view the earth from a different perspective,” she said. 

Mendiondo hasn’t entirely left those carefree childhood explorations behind or her interest in all the wonders that Mother Nature offers. Today, she continues to follow the calling of the wind, or rather her heart, in pursuit of her doctoral degree at UTSA in environmental science and engineering. 

Her full-time studies are funded by UTSA’s NASA MIRO Center for Advanced Measurements in Extreme Environments. Its mission is to recruit, educate, and mentor a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate interdisciplinary students to become leaders in earth system sciences, remote sensing technologies, computational fluid dynamics, and experimental fluid mechanics.

And what more can Mendiondo ask for? Her STEM-related career choice sometimes has her working outdoors, right where she is most comfortable. “It doesn’t feel like work when we’re doing geological investigations outside – even when it’s 100 degrees,” she said. “I also enjoy the challenge of communicating difficult STEM concepts in simple terms so anyone can understand, and the reward of mentoring undergraduate students and seeing their progress and successes.”

The idea of exploring and learning about the Earth through research projects is especially appealing to Mendiondo, and there is a variety of exciting research possibilities. “You can map the inside of a cave, get a view above from a drone to digitize dinosaur tracks, or use remotely-operated vehicles to learn more about the ocean.”

Currently, she is working with an underwater glider on ocean-related research projects. However, some of her favorite projects have been geophysics investigations, Mendiondo explained, that help “see” into the Earth’s subsurface using non-invasive equipment at the surface. One particularly rewarding project helped a family in West Texas establish baseline information about their large property by using various types of geophysics equipment and surveys.

“The project helped identify the underground water level, rock and soil layer thicknesses, and faults or shifting in those layers which may affect underground water flow,” she said. “This project was essential due to the property’s proximity to both underground springs and oil/gas drilling sites.” 

She hopes more young girls and women will choose a STEM career and offers a few words of encouragement.

“Discover who you are and follow your heart,” Mendiondo said. “Be inquisitive, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help. Be open-minded to accept opportunities if they align with your values. It can open doors for you. And don’t be intimidated if you’re one of a small percentage of females in your class.”

And a STEM career leaves no time to be bored. “There’s always something new to learn,” Mendiondo advises. “There is a career for every type of person in a STEM field, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, and you can travel to do research.”

When she’s not studying or doing research, Mendiondo is a mom to three children, ages 26, 23, and 15. Two of them seem inclined to follow their mother’s STEM-related field of study. “My youngest is in high school and taking an AP science course. Soon he may be able to help me,” she said. “My older son is finishing his engineering degree and has previously helped me debug a programming script for my underwater glider research.”

Mendiondo, meanwhile, is looking to the horizon for what the future may hold after she completes her Ph.D. program. She is keeping an open mind for opportunities in environmental/geophysical research that align with her values and incorporate a combination of field, lab, and educational outreach. 

“I have many ideas for a potential career, but I am just taking this journey one step at a time,” she said. 


UTSA KMendiondo4

more posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our