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Molina strikes the proper balance

Daniela Molina is goal-oriented—both on the soccer field and in the classroom.

With the possible exception of working on an engineering project, there are few things that thrill Daniela Molina like the chance to play soccer.

“Soccer has always been a passion for me,” says Molina, a senior from Cali, Colombia, who started playing the game when she was 5 years old.

“I love everything about soccer. Just to be able to play for 90 minutes, to run, to compete, to score—even warming up and running out on the field when they call my name—the whole process is very exciting for me.”

Molina, a striker, or forward, for Lehigh’s women’s soccer team, is known for her bicycle kicks, in which she flips her body up and out so that her right foot is sometimes higher than her head when it propels the ball toward the net.

She is also one of Lehigh’s top mechanical engineering students, having compiled a GPA of almost 3.6 and earned regular berths on the Dean’s List and the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.

This past year, Molina led the soccer team with six goals and 15 points and was named to the all-Patriot League first team. She was also named by ESPN the Magazine to its Academic All-District II second team.

Representing her country

Molina’s work on the soccer field and in the classroom brought her two uncommon opportunities in November.

On Nov. 4, she flew to South America to compete for the Colombian national women’s soccer team in the qualifying rounds for the 2007 World Cup.

“It was an awesome experience,” she says, “to put my country’s jersey on and go out and play.”

Molina played every minute of Colombia’s four games. The team failed to qualify, beating Uruguay, tying Ecuador and losing to Argentina and Chile. Molina scored her first international goal to gain the tie against Ecuador.

“We didn’t do too badly, all things considered,” she says. “There were two groups of five teams competing in Argentina, and we were probably the youngest team there. We only had 10 days to train, while some of the other teams had four to six months together.”

Molina flew from Argentina back to Lehigh on Nov. 23 and went into overdrive to make up her class and lab assignments. Time did not permit her to make another overseas trip—this one to France—with the members of her team in a senior-level projects class.

In the class, Molina’s team is helping Ford Motor Co. improve the consistency of the mold thickness in the bumpers of its vehicles. The students are advised by Herman Nied, chair of the mechanical engineering and mechanics department and an expert in the thermoforming (heat-forming) processes that are used to make automobile bumpers and other industrial products.

Molina’s teammates went to France for a week in late November to use state-of-the-art testing facilities to develop a heating plan that yields a more consistent thickness in the bumper, which is made of a type of polyethylene.

In another mechanical engineering class, Molina is working on a different aspect of automobile technology for a second major automaker.

Invaluable hands-on experience with GM

In her Integrated Product Development class, Molina and four other students are trying to help General Motors produce a car with power-swinging side doors that can be opened remotely. Only two cars in the world—a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes Benz—are now equipped with the doors.

The year-long IPD course organizes students from engineering, business and the design arts into teams that design, make and market a product for a company or sponsor. The 13-year-old program has been described by The New York Times as a model for a workplace of “cross-disciplinary teams.”

“The goal in our project is to develop a power-swinging door that can be put on a vehicle that is less expensive than the Rolls Royce or Mercedes,” says Molina. “It will be great for older people as well as soccer moms with lots of kids, but there are challenges we have to overcome. The motor has to be able to open and close the doors and keep them open on an incline.

“We’re in the process of assembling everything right now. It’s not easy—every time we put the door together, another problem comes up that we have to solve. We’re planning to go to Detroit this semester to make a presentation to GM.”

As a student in a challenging major and an athlete required to work out 12 months a year, Molina understands the realities of the 24-hour day.

“I know I have only a limited amount of time to practice, work out and do homework. I know I can’t stay up all night to study because I have to be physically ready for practice the next day. I’ve found that during the season, when I have less time on my hands, I actually manage time better.”

Molina will play one more season of soccer at Lehigh; she spent her freshman year recovering from surgery to an ACL injury and did not compete. After she graduates in January 2008, her future is open. She is holding open the option of playing again for the Colombia national team, while hoping for the opportunity to work for a company that designs and builds sports stadiums.

“I love hand-on projects, and I love working in the shop.”

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, February 27, 2007

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