Hispanic students and STEM professionals from across the United States gathered in Phoenix last week for four days of workshops, networking and leadership development opportunities.
The conference, known as the 2019 National Institute for Leadership Advancement (NILA), was hosted by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers – a national organization with the mission of “empowering the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential” and “impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support and development.”
According to Raquel Tamez, CEO of SHPE, while Hispanics as a whole attend universities at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups, many struggle to graduate and enter the STEM workforce due to a variety of factors.
“Once our young people are in school, it’s oftentimes very challenging to persist and to actually graduate, for a lot of different reasons,” she said.
Some of those factors include inability to afford college tuition and pressure from family to keep working their existing jobs. Being away from family for extended periods of time can also be a challenge for some students.
“When you’re the first generation and nobody in your family has ever been to university… it’s a scary proposition,” Tamez said. “We’re there to support you in that way. We’re also there to support you with what you need to know and what you need to do in order to secure an internship and/or a job.”
Last week’s NILA 2019 conference was designed to give SPHE’s chapter and regional leaders an opportunity to engage with other students and young professionals from across the country and develop a variety of skills to help them better lead their local SPHE chapters. Participants in the conference attended workshops hosted by SHPE partner organizations, including a workshop on emotional intelligence hosted by the National Security Agency. Other companies that hosted workshops included Procter & Gamble, Honeywell and Accenture.
“This leadership conference is for the leaders of the leaders,” Tamez said.
NILA 2019 attendees also participated in an activity designed to teach the importance of corporate social responsibility. Throughout the conference, event participants packed hundreds of backpacks with scissors, glue sticks and other school supplies, to be donated to Arizona schools at the end of the conference.
Attendees even had the opportunity to tour a local driving range and learn about the business of golf, a new type of experience for the annual convention.
“This will be a first for many of our members — they don’t come from families that play golf,” Tamez said. “I certainly didn’t. So that’s an exciting new component for this particular conference.”
Em Echeverria and Michael Angino traveled to NILA 2019 from Houston, Texas, where they help lead the Rice University chapter of SHPE. They said that they appreciated the opportunity to connect with other SHPE leaders.
“I’ve just seen a change in myself of being able to network with people and improve interpersonal connections,” Echeverria said. “It’s been really great.”
“I think my favorite part has been interacting with the leaders from all of the other chapters,” Angino said. “It’s really good just to be able to interact with others who’ve done it and who are in the current process of doing it.”
NILA 2019 attracted hundreds of people to the Valley, but thousands more will visit Phoenix in October when SHPE will host its 2019 National Convention. That event is hosted each year in cities across the country, Tamez said, and this year’s event is expected to bring over nine thousand people to Arizona. The event “serves as the country’s largest gathering of Hispanic STEM students and professionals,” according to SHPE’s website.
SPHE’s National Convention is its largest annual event and includes multiple sessions across five different conferences. That includes separate conferences for Hispanics at the pre-college, academic and professional levels, as well as one focused on technology and innovation, and another specifically for Latinas in STEM.
SHPE has been working to help more Hispanics enter the STEM workforce since 1974. Tamez said that as SHPE continues to grow, she also hopes to grow SHPE’s scholarship program to help provide even more opportunities for Hispanics to enter STEM industries.
“This is the time for this organization to be a catalyst and to be a solution,” Tamez said. “And I’d like to think that we’ve been doing that through our programs and our services.”