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Building Diversity Connections In Engineering

by Kate Kurtin

During the last weekend of October 2009, 20 UConn members of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) traveled to a national professional career conference in Washington, D.C. The activities of the four-day conference included networking with practicing Hispanic engineers; learning about graduate programs and current job opportunities; engaging in leadership, life training and interview workshops; and a variety of professional development events, including a two-day career fair where students were able to interview with hiring companies.

shpe2.jpgThis is just one of the many programs in which SHPE members participate yearly. Gustavo (Gus) Contreras (ECE), the current president of UConn’s student chapter of SHPE, explained the club’s primary objective is “To be the link between the students and companies that want to hire them.” He continued, “We try to bring organizations to campus that can offer scholarships or workshops, or other things that could help students after they graduate.” The club also tries to better the lives of Hispanic students during college by sponsoring social events throughout the year, and offering scholarship opportunities to members with money raised through grants, alumni, or given to the club from the National SHPE.

In addition to working with Hispanic college students and organizations, SHPE coordinates and works with high school chapters to increase students’ knowledge and interest in college and engineering. “Our chapter is in Hartford, and a lot of students there don’t even think about going to college,” Gus said. “We try to go there to motivate them and show them what life is like at UConn, why it is important to go to college, and then we show them some engineering experiments so they can get excited,” he continued. Because so many of the members went to Washington, D.C. for the conference, the next trip to Hartford is planned for next semester, along with a day set aside for the high school students to come to campus and shadow an SHPE member.

SHPE is one of several active chapters on campus that supports underrepresented populations within engineering; among them are the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), as well as a host of other diversity clubs throughout the University. Gus explained that he found out about the club during his first semester here. “There was a presentation my freshman year, and since I’m Hispanic and an engineer, I thought it would fit me,” he explained. Gus said he was not involved with group or diversity programs at his high school, and that he really didn’t notice being a minority student in engineering, but that “there are not that many Hispanic engineers that I know of.” This highlights the pressure that minority students expect to find upon graduation and entry into the job market. Gus knows that he will be entering the field as a minority, and he anticipates that networking now will pay off later on. The national professional career conference gave him the perfect opportunity to get a leg up on his competition.

In addition to Gus, the SHPE UConn chapter executive board consists of: Lauren Anderson (Internal Vice-President), Andre Silva (External Vice President), Calvin Armando Lopez (Treasurer), Katelyn Fitzpatrick (Junior SHPE Coordinator 1), Honorio Valdes (Junior SHPE Coordinator 2), Rachel Lellis (Secretary), Oscar Perez (Webmaster), Jorge Simbaqueba (Student Advisor/Last year’s President) and Kevin McLaughlin as Faculty Advisor. To find out more about the club, including meeting or donation information, visit¬†http://shpe.uconn.edu.