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CU Denver’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Makes a Post-COVID Comeback

In early November, a dozen undergraduate and graduate students from CU Denver’s College of Engineering, Design and Computing traveled to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) national convention in Charlotte, N.C.

The largest gathering of Hispanic engineering talent in the U.S., the sold-out 2022 convention drew more than 10,000 students, professionals, and industry leaders from across the nation. 

The College of Engineering, Design and Computing and Latinx Student Services sponsored the 2022 trip, where students spent four days attending educational workshops, networking, sharing their resumes and participating in job interviews. A few students even came back to Denver with job offers.

Fernando Mancilla-David, PhD, professor of Electrical Engineering and faculty advisor for CU Denver’s SHPE chapter, accompanied the students on their trip.

“These experiences are important for our minority students,” he says. “The vast majority of individuals at the convention were Hispanic. Our students enjoyed interacting and exchanging ideas with people who look like them.”

CU Denver’s showing at the 2022 convention was quite different from 2021, when only one student attended. Challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic left the campus SHPE chapter practically decimated, according to chapter President Jose Treto Davila who said they were struggling for funding and membership had dwindled down to just three students.

Living the Commitment to Diversity at CU Denver

Egduard Jauregui, an electrical engineering graduate professional who works at IBM, was the sole attendee from campus last year. Vice President of Membership for SHPE Colorado and member of the CU Denver chapter, he made it a personal goal to help bring the opportunity to more of his classmates in 2022.

“SHPE brings in a lot of big players like Apple, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, CAT, and all the huge engineering firms,’ he says. “It’s a great opportunity for Hispanic students and I wanted to get as many from CU Denver to attend as possible.”

He worked with Treto Davila, a senior studying Mechanical Engineering, who initially set a goal with chapter board members to send five people this year.

“I had never been to a national conference, but knew it was a venture that we should partake in,” Treto Davila says.

They were thrilled when funding came through allowing12 students to attend.

“The College of Engineering, Design and Computing seeks to be a first choice for Hispanic students seeking an engineering degree in Colorado, so supporting our students in resurrecting the CU Denver SHPE chapter and attending the national convention was a clear priority, even in the presence of financial challenges at the college and campus level,” says Mark Golkowski, associate dean for Education and Student Success. “We hope that the students who attended can bring some of the inspiring vision and networking opportunities back to our campus.”

After returning, Treto Davila says the ROI made attending the SHPE convention well worth it.

“It certainly lived up to my expectations. Seeing someone that looks like you and in a professional environment, working for a company that would dream to work for, is very motivational,” he says.

College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s strategic plan aims to strengthen support and increase success for underrepresented engineering students and serve Colorado employers by growing diverse technical talent in the state. Currently, almost 20 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, yet only 8 percent of STEM and engineering jobs are filled by Hispanic professionals. At CU Denver, Hispanic student enrollment has grown by 109 percent in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing over the last four years and now makes up 23.2 percent of its undergraduate population.

“The University is living its commitment to diversity and inclusion and is catapulting student success by making such experiences a reality for many who would not be able to attend SHPE otherwise,” Jauregui says.

Treto Davila said attending the convention helped him determine he wanted to remain in Colorado after graduating and contribute to the local engineering workforce.

“Initially I went open to moving anywhere,” he says. “I left with a job offer and another interview, but I decided I want to stay here.”

‘We are All Standing Together’

Returning for the second year, Jauregui said he encouraged first-year attendees to connect with potential employers at SHPE’s opening day career fair.

“I pushed them to talk to people,” he says. “After the first day, their level of confidence was a complete 180. I was amazed to see the turnaround in their interaction with other engineers. It was my mission to really break that cycle of imposter syndrome and show them you are not that only person in the room,” he says. Here we are, we are all standing together.”

Added Treto Davila, “They left the event realizing they had more value than they initially thought, and that was great to see.”

At this year’s convention, Mancilla-David and the faculty advisor for the chapter at the School of Mines discussed ideas for increasing interaction among peers at their respective institutions and beginning outreach to Hispanic high schoolers.

CU Denver SHPE members hope to continue to bolster their chapter and the number of students who attend future conventions.

“These conferences can change the narrative for underrepresented students,” Jauregui says. “They realize they are not going to be begging for a job in engineering. They are earning a career where they are wanted, they are valued, and their skills are necessary.”

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At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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