CONCORD, N.C. – For Alba Colón, it is all about getting the job done. She isn’t looking for accolades and glory, just pride in her work as the director of competition systems at Hendrick Motorsports.
When she received a letter from SAE International informing her that she was a recipient of the 2022 Rodica Baranescu Award for Technical & Leadership Excellence, it caught the long time industry employee off guard. Colón was presented with the honor in Detroit on Tuesday, April 18.
"You don’t do this job because you are expecting awards," Colón said. "The only awards to expect are the ones that happen on most Sundays between 6 and 7 p.m. (when the race is won). We did a great job, and we are going to win that race. For me, those are the awards that we work hard for.
"That somebody thought highly enough of you to nominate you and to go through the whole process, means a lot. That means somebody has noticed what you have been doing, but once again, you don’t do your job expecting an award. You do it because it is the right thing to do and because you want to make a difference. It was very nice surprise."
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The Rodica Baranescu Award was established in 2011 by SAE International. The award celebrates the successes of women in the engineering profession and recognizes their leadership and technical contributions in the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle sectors. Looking to broaden the awareness of reach and impact of females working in mobility engineering, the goals of this award are to encourage the involvement of women engineers as well as open the doors for young girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.
The award is named after the past president of SAE International, Baranescu, who is a mechanical engineer. She started her academic and professional career in Romania before immigrating to the United States in 1980. She was elected as the first woman president of SAE International in 2000. You can learn more about the award here.
"I am very proud of the example she has been," Colón said of Baranescu, who Colón has had the pleasure of meeting during her career. “Not just because she is a woman, but for the diversity of thought that is needed in every group. You need to have divergent backgrounds and people that think differently."
Colón developed her passion for engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. While completing her degree there, she first got involved in the Formula SAE program. It was this program that led to a job with General Motors and it’s a program that she continues to participate in. She volunteers yearly to help with the Formula SAE competition and to talk to students about the importance of STEM education
One example of this came last month when Hendrick Motorsports hosted the SAE Carolinas Section Student Night. Approximately 160 students were on campus from eight different universities – seven from the Carolinas and Liberty University. Students interacted with each other and had the opportunity to showcase what they have done so far on SAE-related collegiate design series projects. As the chair of the SAE Carolinas Section, Colón helped organize that event.
Colón has been a pioneer in the motor sports industry. She spent 23 years working with General Motors on the racing side before joining Hendrick Motorsports in January of 2018. In her role, Colon directs the Team Operations Center, a vital piece of the team’s operation each racing weekend. The Team Operations Center provides the organization with a central place for the four teams to communicate, present, share information and analyze data to help the organization’s overall performance.
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In 2021, she was recognized as the recipient of the Kate Gleason Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation. The award honors a female engineer that "has had a lifetime of achievement in the engineering profession." Earlier this year, she was appointed to the board of directors for the Atlanta-based STEAM Sports Foundation.
"I am just trying to use this stage to keep promoting that we need more people continuing to work in STEM in motor sports and engineering," Colón said. "I owe Hendrick Motorsports, General Motors, NASCAR and SAE International for believing in me. Like I say to the young students in college, you have to give back to all these groups as much as they give you. This doesn’t end when you finish school."