Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
ORLANDO A. GUTIERREZ
Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
I represent the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), of which I was president from 1993 to 1995. I am still associated with SHPE, and my feeling is that if it didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent it. Hispanics are probably the least represented minority in the workplace. They are the least represented minority in government employment and engineering and science on all levels. This morning, one of the speakers stated that the Hispanic population in engineering has increased to 4.8 percent. Compare that with 13.9 percent Hispanic representation in the population as a whole right now, and more than 20 percent representation in the nation among individuals under 20 years of age, the next generation coming out of college. There is obviously something wrong, but who is to blame? I think the Hispanic population is to blame. I think government organizations are to blame. I think American business is to blame. I think the educational and academic institutions are to blame. There is plenty of blame to go around.
SHPE was founded in 1974 by seven engineers working for the city of Los Angeles who found themselves in a poor working environment. Since then, the organization has grown to include more than 1,400 professionals in science, engineering, and technology and more than 7,000 students in those fields throughout the country. We have 43 chapters from Seattle to Florida, from Maine to San Diego. We have chapters in about 160 schools. We are comparable to an NSBE for Hispanics, but we are a little bit different.
When a company wants to recruit from underrepresented groups, it should not just consider minorities in general, but should look at the particular group they are interested in. Once that decision is made, the company should find them and treat them appropriately.
Our organization is based on a process of self-help, our people helping our people improve at the college level, at the work level, at the precollege level.
The main tool we use is very simple—networking, networking at all levels— professionals networking with college students; advanced college students networking with incoming students to increase retention, college students mentoring precollege students. In order to do that, we have a few main programs. One is a scholarship program. Another is career fairs for employment; our career fair is benchmarking against NSBE’s. We don’t have 7,000 people there, but we now have 4,000, so we are creeping up. Our career fair is perhaps the best source of Hispanic undergraduate potential employees for companies. Our students are spread among colleges and universities that may have 3 or 4 percent Hispanic students, which means if you go to one university for one day of recruiting, your recruiter may see 16 people, 4 percent of whom will be Hispanic. I think that represents half of a person. The chance of that half person fulfilling your requirements is practically nil. By participating in the SHPE conference, you can see 3,000 students in one place and can probably find somebody to fit your needs, your characteristics, and your interests.
We also run a lot of outreach programs in which our college students tutor and mentor high school and junior high students, getting them into the engineering/ science mind frame. If we wait until students are seniors in high school or at the bridge level, it’s already too late. Interest in these careers has to be generated when students start junior high, which is the most significant point in a student’s life. We also have a leadership training program to teach skills that are not taught at the university, such as how to operate a program, how to write grants, how to run an organization. We also produce a magazine, SHPE, which is one of the largest, if not the largest, Hispanic engineering magazine in the country.
So what? So, we have programs. Are these sufficient? No. Are they effective? We have made some improvements. We have affected the retention level of freshmen in college by associating them with successful upperclassmen. Have we been able to help companies in recruiting? Yes. Companies that attend our conference and show their flags and show real interest, which is difficult to fake, are considered by our students to be employers of choice. Are we satisfied with what we are doing? No. A project like this—to help the community, which helps industry, which helps the nation—requires money. We don’t have enough. We have a scholarship program that gives about $275,000 a year in scholarships. That is a pittance. We are able to help about 270 students a year, but we have a list of 1,400 applicants, all of them worthwhile candidates.
We spend about $120,000 a year for our outreach programs. Is that sufficient? It is a drop in the bucket. It should be 1.5 orders of magnitude bigger than it is. Can we generate the funds ourselves? No. We need to partner with industry, not to ask for gifts, but to seek investments in the future. You won’t see the results tomorrow. You won’t even be able to measure them in a couple of years. But you will see results in the future. I think that support of organizations like ours, like NSBE, like SWE, is one of the best investments American industry and government can make.