Written by: Angelina Santos 🇵🇷
University of Maryland College Park is known for their engineering and computer science programs. However, Latinos are not likely to be found in STEM fields or majors. Students describe the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), which is found across many universities in the United States, as a place to overcome systemic barriers to success.
UMD’s SHPE is a “familia” of around 45 active members and on their Instagram they boast over 700 followers. They host a number of events and opportunities, from ones that are social- geared towards finding other Latinos in STEM, to networking and job opportunities as well. Part of the organization’s national mission is to increase STEM access for Hispanic students. They want Latinos to be seen as a valued addition to the STEM community.
Sophomore and Civil Engineering major, Valery Caicedo recently joined and expressed how true the familia label is to UMD’s SHPE members. “It felt very close knitted,” she shared.
Being a recent member, it was also her first time attending the annual SHPE conference held this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. Officially titled the SHPE National Convention, they pride themselves on serving “as the country’s largest, annual gathering of Hispanic STEM students and professionals.”
The convention is a huge gathering where companies give out job opportunities, network, and mix with SHPE members from around the nation who come to enhance their skills. With them attending events and workshops, it is a great opportunity for anyone looking to grow an engineering career.
This year was Caicedo’s first time going, and she found that SHPE prepared her for the trip well. After applying for the trip, SHPE helped prepare her for what to say in interviews and held preparation workshops, like their resume workshop. Despite being a new member she felt embraced by la familia.
“Everyone is so welcoming, and while we were at the conference I didn't know that many people that well before going, but while we were there they were all super nice. They were asking me and giving me advice on what to do because it was my first one,” she said.
Caicedo’s thoughts on joining for Latino community and networking resounded with SHPE’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Yobany Matos Jr. A Senior this year and having been with SHPE for 2 years, he also joined searching for the same things.
“I wanted to join SHPE to get a community and do some fun stuff outside of classes with people that, like I said before, shared my similar interests. And then also, I just felt like it was a good opportunity for me to network… and it worked out for me.” he shared.
SHPE at UMD is always busy as they also go to local high school, Bladensburg, to mentor SHPE Jr. chapter members. Students interested in STEM at a high school level benefit from advice, coding classes, college preparation and more according to Matos Jr.
SHPE means something to its members at UMD. It has provided many of them with job opportunities, interviews, offers, a chance to give back to their community and a place to feel comfortable on campus.
“I think it's definitely hard just cause there aren't that many of us in general, especially women. Even in SHPE it's like a lot of guys and I mean that's fine but it's just, being a woman engineer and a Latina engineer it's a lot more,” Caicedo shared when asked about her experience in engineering.
Still, joining SHPE gave her a community of people to relate to. “It's nice having that support from people, and knowing that there are other people who feel the same way and people who will support you because they know what you're going through, and they know that it's a hard thing.” she said.
When asked where she sees SHPE headed in the future - especially at UMD’s chapter, SHPE’s President Dahlia Andres expressed that she expects growth.
“In the future, I see SHPE UMD fostering an environment that is open, friendly, and encourages engagement across all majors while also implementing initiatives to make SHPE more accessible to a diverse range of students,” she said.
UMD’s SHPE chapter expresses a commitment to remaining ambitious, attending future SHPE conventions, fostering a Latino in STEM familia, and preparing their members for the future.