Student organization builds community for Hispanic engineers
When Karen Santos first moved to Columbus from San Diego, California, to attend The Ohio State University, she wanted to find a community that would support her. She soon found exactly what she was looking for in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) at Ohio State.
Since becoming involved with SHPE during her first semester on campus, Santos rose through the ranks to become president last year and currently serves as the region’s student representative. Connecting with other engineering students who have similar backgrounds through SHPE helps her forget how overwhelming college can sometimes be, Santos said.
“It really reminds you of, this is my purpose,” said the industrial and systems engineering major. “These are the people that are going to help me get there.”
Providing that support for SHPE’s nearly 50 dues-paying members is the organization’s foremost focus, said President Alex Morales, an electrical and computer engineering major.
“Before anything, we are a community to uplift each other,” he explained. “But we also focus on improving our members.”
SHPE aims to help members grow professionally, academically and as leaders, Morales said, while also focusing on chapter development and community outreach.
The organization helps members’ grow professionally through company workshops, networking sessions, study groups and more.
The chapter’s recently revamped mentorship program has been especially helpful to first-year students, Morales said. It matches new students with peers who are farther along in their studies.
“We try to also provide a lot of mentorship guidance for our members and some have said that that's very impactful and has led to either professional opportunities or just being able to be more engaged in their classes,” he added.
SHPE’s employer connections are also beneficial, Morales said. He obtained internships with 3M and IBM at the SHPE national convention. After serving as the chapter’s director of finance during his junior year and managing company sponsorships, Morales became interested in a career in technical sales.
“It has led to professional opportunities, such as where I'm working now full-time would not be possible if I wasn't a part of SHPE,” he said. “My career trajectory is now altered because of it.”
Although it was officially dubbed the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in 2003, there have been student organizations on campus with similar missions since 1990. The national organization was established in 1974 in Los Angeles, California, by a group of engineers who wanted to form a professional organization of U.S. engineers to serve as role models in the Hispanic community.
“On a national stance, our main focus is to empower the Hispanic community, whether that be the engineers, the families or people who need services,” explained Santos.
As the student representative for SHPE region six, Santos has enjoyed helping chapters at other schools achieve their goals.
“It's something that I really enjoy and I find fulfillment and purpose in,” she said. “Hopefully one day I'll be on the board of directors. But for now, I'm really happy with the journey I've had so far.”
SHPE helps serve the off-campus community by hosting several outreach events. Each spring the group partners with the National Society of Black Engineers to host a STEM Challenge for middle schoolers that introduces kids to engineering and STEM-based concepts through hands-on activities. They also host a Holiday Toy Drive Fiesta, a social event where each guest donates a toy or money. The donations are given to needy central Ohio families.
Each fall SHPE hosts Noche de Ciencias (Night of Sciences) for approximately 40 high schoolers and their families. It combines a hands-on STEM workshop for high schoolers with a bilingual college readiness and financial aid workshop for their parents.
Santos hosted the Spanish workshop for parents during her freshman year and kept in touch with some of the parents following the event.
“This is really where I see the biggest impact. I haven't seen another program that takes the time to educate parents on what to do in terms of college readiness,” she said. “A couple of years later, I get pictures of students and the parents are like, ‘Wow, my kid is here and if it weren't for this opportunity, I would not have known about it.”
Due to the pandemic, this year SHPE is collaborating with chapters around the region and other partners to host a series of virtual Noche de Ciencias events. The Ohio State chapter also plans to host an introductory event for Columbus families in late October. Details will be announced once plans are final.
by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org