Dr. Karen Lozano is no stranger to public recognition for her achievements. A Mexican-born professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a leading researcher in the field of nanotechnology, Lozano has won prizes ranging from R&D grants to outstanding teaching awards. Still, her latest award, “Engineer of the Year,” represents a landmark achievement.
The award, presented by Great Minds in STEM (GMiS), has been honoring the country’s top Hispanic engineers and scientists for almost three decades. Yet, only two women have previously been awarded this distinction, making Lozano’s achievement even more significant.
Lozano, who has developed more than 20 patents and patent applications, was featured in the 2012 Partnership for a New American Economy report, “Patent Pending: How Immigrants are Reinventing the American Economy,” which showed the critical role that foreign engineers, scientists, and other researchers play in inventing products that power the American economy. The report highlighted one of Lozano’s inventions, which she created in 2006: a machine that manufactured nanofibers 900 times faster than any other product then on the market. The development of this technology lead Lozano to co-found FibeRio, a startup nanotechnology manufacturing company in South Texas that continues to grow today.
Lozano’s latest achievement is evidence of the strides she has made in the years since she was featured in our report. “This award is a great honor,” she says, “It’s an incredible feeling to have your work recognized.”
Lozano says one of the best aspects of her award is that it provides a platform for her to encourage young students, particularly women, to follow a path similar to hers. “I see it as a great opportunity to motivate young students, to encourage them to work hard and start making the right academic decisions now,” she says.
And Lozano is already looking toward the future, having recently developed and submitted several new patent applications. “Who knows,” Lozano says, “Maybe one of them will result in a new startup.”
Lozano’s success is an inspiring example of the immigrant-led innovations being developed all around the country. In fact, 76 percent of patents awarded in 2011 to the top ten patent-producing universities in the United States had at least one foreign-born inventor, according to the “Patent Pending” report. And, like Lozano, many immigrant inventors go on to turn their products into successful startup ventures that create jobs for American workers.
Yet, despite the powerful impact immigrant entrepreneurs and inventors have on the American economy, our immigration system makes it difficult for these individuals to remain in the country and contribute to its economic progress. For example, although more than half of all PhDs graduating from U.S. universities in STEM fields are foreign-born, visa caps make it difficult for many to stay in the United States after graduation. Furthermore, unlike several other countries — like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Singapore, the United States has no designated visa for entrepreneurs.
Congress must do more to ensure that talented individuals, like Lozano, are able to remain here and contribute to our economy through their groundbreaking research, disruptive innovations, and cutting-edge technologies. Failure to do so means some of the greatest inventors of our time will have no choice but to take their talents elsewhere.