Student Spotlight: Graduate Student Gavin Maestas, M.S. Mechanical Engineering, SMU Milvets, Hilltop Motorsports

Before coming to SMU Lyle on the G.I. Bill, Gavin Maestas spent five years in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Bragg. He sharpened his mechanical skills by identifying and addressing key design issues for a prototype weapons system, developing communication infrastructure and maintaining over $100,000 in intelligence-sensitive equipment.  He was drawn to SMU Lyle for its prestigious engineering program, the smaller class sizes and the school’s support for veterans.  Maestas is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering through the 4 + 1 program.

“SMU really takes care of vets,” Maestas says. “They give vets everything we need and ask for, as well as special advisors who understand our unique situation and make us feel included.” He is active in SMU MilVets ‒ a growing community that provides a safe meeting space and study room for student veterans, helping them transition back to civilian and campus life ‒ and even served a term as its president. Last spring, Maestas received the Outstanding Student Leadership Award for his work with the organization.

He also is a founding member of Hilltop Motorsports, a team of SMU students that design and construct a single-seat, Formula One-style racecar. The team rivals top engineering schools in the annual Formula SAE competition, a Society of Automotive Engineers event held every summer in Lincoln, Nebraska. Teams are ranked by an overall score in design, construction, performance and cost. Hilltop Motorsports received financial support from Susan and Tom Armstrong and the SMU Student Senate. The team also receives discounts and donations on materials and parts from automotive manufacturers.

In the second year of participation, SMU’s Formula SAE team ranked No. 27 out of 78 teams. It passed all evaluation levels, ranked No. 15 in marketing pitch, and received media coverage in the Lincoln newspaper, the Lincoln Journal Star. The team not only improved, but also finished its endurance run, receiving praise from the design judge on its advanced level for a second-year competitor.

Maestas appreciates the push by professors who encouraged the team to start a new project, and also the freedom to work ‒ and sometimes fail ‒ acquiring skills in the process.

“One of the best things I’ve participated in at SMU is the Formula SAE racecar team,” Maestas says. “The experience we’ve gained provides us with a strong asset to put on our resumes. Companies really value this type of initiative and expertise.”

Much of Maestas’s industry experience has come from responding to internship recruitment emails from Linda Parker, director of SMU Lyle’s Hart Center for Engineering Leadership. Parker also has been quick to offer resume advice, which Maestas believes has helped him obtain internships. “The Hart Center is a major asset to SMU Lyle,” he says. “When I was in my senior design class, the Hart Center held leadership workshops and brought in guest speakers. It was intriguing to hear CEOs and entrepreneurs share their experiences.”

Maestas combines his classroom-based education with practical, real-world experience.  This summer, he interned at Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions, where he worked on automation and control systems design and analysis for automated surface mining equipment. Now in his final semester at SMU Lyle, Maestas is working on the Powerplant and Propulsion performance engineering team at Southwest Airlines. He’s well on his way to a great post-military career.

Links: Hilltop Motorsports:

SMU Milvets:

M.S. Mechanical Engineering: