Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers: a familia

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BYU students from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers pose behind a sign that says “Familia.” The national convention is a yearly event that provides students with exposure to the STEM industry and employers and professionals. (Photo courtesy of Aldo Chipana)

The BYU chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers seeks to leverage Hispanic students’ experiences in STEM-related fields by providing a professional support network.

According to their website, SHPE has more than 14,000 nationally participating members, making it the largest association for Hispanics in STEM in the United States.

SHPE’s mission is to empower the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential and to impact the world through a career in STEM. They do this through their chapters across the nation.

“We meet each of our student and professional members where they are — offering effective training, mentorship and programming for our vibrant community,” according to SHPE’s website.

Chipana poses with the Peruvian flag. Chipana’s parents are from Peru. (Photo courtesy of Aldo Chipana)

Aldo Chipana, a senior studying mechanical engineering, heard about SHPE back in 2021 when he was a sophomore, but he wasn’t interested in joining until he heard his friends had attended the SHPE national convention in South Carolina in 2022.

The convention is a yearly event organized by SHPE, where Hispanic STEM students and professionals from across the country gather together.

At the beginning of the 2023 school year, Chipana decided to become more involved in SHPE and soon learned the society’s 2023 national convention would take place in Salt Lake City.

“To me that’s kind of like an answer from God saying, ‘Hey, here’s your opportunity to go if you want to,'” Chipana said.

However, without previous experience in an engineering-related job or internship, Chipana felt underprepared for the convention. He reached out to the BYU SHPE chapter’s president, Sarah Maia, for help.

Maia, a senior studying computer engineering, has been a member of the chapter since 2021 and became chapter president in April. Her main role is to support the members of the chapter and their career development, Maia said.

Maia explained the chapter is made up of underrepresented students who have a lot of potential but don’t have as strong of a support system as other students because most of them are international or first-generation college students.

According to Maia, a large part of the support the society provides for SHPE students comes from the yearly convention.

“Our club emphasizes familia … we spend the whole semester together preparing and once we’re at the convention, it’s like we’re really tight knit and we support each other throughout the entire experience, and I think we’ve been extremely successful,” Maia said.

Since Maia became a member in 2021, she has witnessed a great turnout in the national conventions. She said the chapter took 17 students to the 2021 national convention in Orlando. The number of students attending doubled to 35 for the 2022 convention in South Carolina.

Maia explained BYU’s SHPE chapter can usually take most interested students to the convention, but the number of spots is dependent on the funds available.

According to Maia, funding is one of the society’s main challenges. Currently, the society gets consistent support through yearly grants from Boeing and the Weidman Center in the College of Engineering.

In the past, the society has resorted to crowdfunding to meet the increasing demands of resources needed to help as many students as possible attend the conventions. For the 2022 convention, BYU SHPE raised $20,000 that contributed towards the expenses of their trip to South Carolina.

Maia said at the rate the society is growing, from 40 members during her first year to about 200 members now, they will require more funds than they currently have available. She anticipates fundraising in the upcoming years to be more difficult as BYU no longer allows crowfunding.

This year’s national convention in Salt Lake City took place during the first week of November. The proximity allowed the society to take 50 students, Maia said.

Jared Landetta, a mechanical engineering senior, has been a regular attendant of the SHPE conventions since he joined the society in 2021.

Landetta poses with fellow BYU student Garett Tapia at the 2023 convention in Salt Lake City. BYU SHPE took 50 students to the convention. (Jared Landetta)

Landetta explained the convention usually goes from Wednesday to Saturday. During these four days, attendees have opportunities to attend presentations and lectures, participate in STEM competitions, network with attendees and even interview for jobs or internships.

In the 2022 convention, Landetta participated in a design challenge competition sponsored by Nissan. Participants were assigned to eight random three-person teams and had two days to develop and refine an idea that addressed a need within the automotive industry.

“We presented an augmented reality visualization tool that would allow you to see the car that you’re designing in real time and customize it using your phone,” Landetta said.

The competition evaluated the ideas and the participants’ delivery through several rounds of feedback. Landetta and his team, however, created a full-working prototype, which earned them second place.

Although the impact of the convention on participants is difficult to measure, Landetta said the meaningful connections he has developed through his participation have made the annual conventions worthwhile.

“It’s harder to measure those types of connections because they’re like friendships that you build long and it’s hard to quantify,” Landetta said.

Attending the convention is a beneficial experience even if you are not yet academically qualified for internships, Maia said.

“Even if you don’t get an offer or win a competition, you are going through the process of building a resume, making a good elevator pitch, maybe doing an interview or two and expanding your network,” Maia said.

Chipana has personally seen some of the benefits of attending SHPE’s national convention.

 “I didn’t realize how amazing the national convention was … It seriously empowers you as a Latin, Latino, Latina in STEM to realize you’re just as qualified as your colleagues,” Chipana said.

According to Chipana, the convention is only a little taste of what the SHPE can truly offer to students. The real magic happens in the activities at the BYU chapter, where students gather together, become friends, make jokes and talk about their cultures and families.

Chipana said his participation in BYU’s chapter of SHPE has allowed him to feel like a part of the SHPE familia. Finding that community has been crucial for him and his BYU experience.

“(When) you look at someone that looks like you … it feels like home,” Chipana said.

The 2024 national convention will celebrate SHPE’s 50th anniversary and will take place in Anaheim, California.

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