We are the Solution

Our country is on the cusp of great change. The same is true for the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) community, as well as the Hispanic community. And change has come to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). We have reached a milestone 10,000 members, have increased scholarships and career opportunities for our members, and have realized our dream of establishing an office in Washington, DC.

These changes are creating tremendous opportunities for the Hispanic community. There is an urgency to fill the pipeline of STEM professionals so the U.S. can reclaim its place of leadership in innovation and discovery on a global level. In an address to the National Science Foundation earlier this year, President Obama said, “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”

Unfortunately, there are not enough STEM professionals in our country today to achieve the lofty goals with which the president and our nation have challenged us. The demand for engineers cannot be met with the status quo. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the demand for scientists and engineers in the U.S. is expected to grow four times faster than all other professions in the next 10 years. But only 5 percent of U.S. college students earn degrees in science and engineering. Even more disturbing, the U.S. ranks 37th among 38 nations in quality math and science education. Only 32 percent of all eighth graders and 39 percent of all fourth graders in the U.S. were considered proficient in math a couple of years ago.

Can we take advantage of these challenges? We are in a perfect position to make some real change in this country, to improve our nation’s position on a global basis. How? Within the fastest growing population in the country, there are plenty of people who, given the opportunity, can fill that pipeline and move us toward achieving those goals. The reality is that we can solve these issues by using the creativity, brainpower, resourcefulness and innovation found within the Hispanic community.

At SHPE, we have taken on the responsibility of addressing this crisis and spurring our community to accept the challenges head on. SHPE is the source for quality Hispanic engineers and technical talent, empowering the Hispanic community in all aspect of STEM education, academic development, and professional growth for all its members. SHPE is the source from K to E, from the Kindergarten classroom to the Executive board room. Our mission is to increase the number of Hispanic students pursuing a STEM education. We are meeting that challenge with increased programs like summer camps, SHPE Jr. Chapters, Science Bowl competitions and more for pre-college youth.

But SHPE also supports our students once they decide to pursue their STEM education through our college chapters, scholarship opportunities now exceeding $2 million, and excellent networking and internship opportunities. Through our graduate school programs, we are encouraging more SHPE students to pursue Masters and Doctorate degrees. SHPE also is serious about supporting our professionals as they advance in their careers. Professional development opportunities increase each year, and the nation’s top companies actively recruit our member at SHPE conferences and events.

As the newly elected president of SHPE, I plan to strengthen and grow our current successful programs, but also increase some expectations. While we applaud our college graduates and celebrate with members as they land their first professional jobs, we don’t shine the spotlight often enough on those who have been with our organization for the long haul.

With a history of more than 30 years, SHPE has amassed a talented pool of leadership that will continue to grow. Many SHPE distinguished members are the top of their fields and serve in industry, government and academia, and our large number of PhD members offers a great wealth of intelligence and skill within our organization. These leaders have a lot to teach us and are ready-made role models.

Yes, our members are involved in several Hispanic organizations and are leaders within our community. However, we are also leaders within the STEM community and our nation as a whole. The list of accomplishments is long, but a few highlights of SHPE’s membership include a Congressional Fellow and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); a Diplomacy Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); a member of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors; a member of the Technology for Sustainability Subcommittee; an evaluator for technical areas of the Missile Defense Agency; and a member of the Greater Houston Partnership Energy Collaborative Committee. SHPE will highlight their achievements while simultaneously opening doors for more to serve on distinguished panels, as speakers and on powerful government committees. Only then can we be assured that the Hispanic community’s voice will truly be heard.

We have the people and the brain power. Our Hispanic STEM leaders are exemplary and their numbers are growing. The Hispanic community is not only part of the solution to the STEM crisis---we are the solution. SHPE has accepted the challenge to address our nation’s crisis head on as we continue in our quest to increase the numbers of Hispanic engineers and technical talent at our universities, government organizations, companies and in leadership positions.

Manny Hernandez is the National President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).