Mechanical engineering major Ozzy Aidan Sanchez-Aldana and the workshop where he works on unmanned aerial vehicles.
“What makes engineering enticing to me is the ability to appreciate my work and creativity in the palm of my hand,” says Ozzy Sanchez-Aldana. Steve Zylius / UCI

Third-year UC Irvine mechanical engineering student Ozzy Sanchez-Aldana dreams of working in NASA’s space exploration division.

A proud Mexican American, the 21-year-old is the first in his family to pursue a bachelor’s degree. A native Californian, he lived in Oregon from 2012 to 2020, returning to the Golden State for its top-tier engineering programs.

Sanchez-Aldana developed an interest in robotics while watching “Star Wars” as a child. Curious about the character C-3PO, he made it a point to see more movies with humanoid machines and animatronics, like “The Dark Crystal,” directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Immersing himself in the world of robotics, Sanchez-Aldana devoured behind-the-scenes documentaries about such films, learning about the technical workarounds of the ’80s and ’90s.

“It was just awe-inspiring to me,” he says, “to see engineers use inanimate parts to create a living, albeit mechanical, being.”

In 2017, as a sophomore in high school, Sanchez-Aldana got his first taste of STEM research interning at Portland State University. While he had wanted to gain experience in the field of engineering, Sanchez-Aldana was placed in PSU’s computer science program, where he learned programming languages like Python/C. It confirmed his passion for engineering; he wanted to do something hands-on rather than just sort out raw data.

“What makes engineering enticing to me,” Sanchez-Aldana says, “is the ability to appreciate my work and creativity in the palm of my hand. It’s a little hard to do that when I’m kind of just sitting at a desk and programming.”

This led him to enter UCI’s mechanical engineering program in 2021. Here, Sanchez-Aldana was finally able to apply his love of engineering in courses like Engineering 7A and 7B, where he undertook the 3D modeling, testing and fabrication of a rover.

He currently heads the payload team in UCI’s UAV Forge project, working to create an unmanned aerial vehicle for an annual international competition held in Maryland. The undergraduate-led group aims to build a quadcopter that can carry an object to a specific target on a flight path.

Sanchez-Aldana is also a member of the UCI chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the oldest engineering honor society in the United States.

In addition, he’s the 2023-24 recipient of a scholarship from the Eric Clayton Pedersen Endowed Memorial Fund. Sanchez-Aldana says that the award helps him to focus on his studies, save for the future and prepare for his transition from student to working professional.

He’s planning to run for a board position with the UCI chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, perhaps involving the technical committee, creating and leading projects for SHPE members.

Sanchez-Aldana intends to pursue a career with NASA’s space colonization projects and Artemis missions. He wants to design autonomous devices that help with sample collection and the exploration of dangerous terrain.

“I put my hopes in this,” Sanchez-Aldana says, “because at the end of the day, the chance to do something that’s completely unprecedented is what’s going to keep me invested [in engineering] for the rest of my life.”

If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The Henry Samueli School of Engineering plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting