Hispanic Engineering Group Strives for Diversity, Inclusion in STEM Fields

a group of students dancing in a lineFor the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, engineering is only part of the equation for success.

“We as an organization feel the responsibility to show the world and engineering population what Hispanic and Latino engineers can do,” said Mateus Pinho, the internal vice president of the society’s University of Pittsburgh chapter and a junior bioengineering student.

Contact the Pitt chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers for more information on the group and how to get involved.

Pitt’s chapter, based in the Swanson School of Engineering, is in the midst of “one of the biggest times of the year” — celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15. “It’s a way to truly express Latin and Hispanic culture.”

As part of the monthlong observance, the chapter is hosting the society’s national executive director Raquel Tamez at an event at Benedum Hall on the Pittsburgh campus on Thursday, Oct. 11. Tamez will speak about the impact of cultural heritage in strengthening enrollment and retention of members of the Hispanic engineering community.

This and other events held during the month and throughout the year showcase the group’s dedication to diverse representation and inclusivity.

“It’s an opportunity for them to share their culture, share their identity, learn and grow from each other and support each other through their academic and professional tracks in STEM to make an impact in their fields, the University and their communities,” said Simeon Saunders, an academic counselor and the chapter’s academic adviser.

Pinho will be one of these presenters at the society’s upcoming national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 7-11. Pinho is researching predictive toxicology modeling techniques in Pitt’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

His presentation, “Human In Vitro Organotypic Culture Model (OCM) of Limb Chondrogenesis for Predictive Toxicology,” will explain using human stem cells to develop a new modeling technique for drug and potential toxin testing.

“It’s research I have done over the past few semesters,” said Pinho.

Pinho has been involved with the society since his freshman year and said the University’s encouragement for more diversity has helped with the society’s membership increase over the years, as well as other organizations’ overall diversity.

Looking ahead, the chapter’s annual spring event, Noche de Ciencias, combines diversity and inclusion with engineering for students from kindergarten through high school. The society members invite the students to participate in STEM activities, which have previously included having students make the tallest spaghetti and marshmallow tower, a catapult from pencils and rubber bands and a lava lamp from food coloring, oil and water.

At the event, parents are also provided with college resources that help encourage their children pursue higher education and STEM careers. Though a date for 2019’s event is still to be scheduled, the group welcomes inquiries on this and other events.

“We come in with a lot of fun activities and cool science experiments that will get the next generation of engineers interested and engaged,” said Olivia Lazarchick, Pitt society chapter president.

Lazarchick, a junior computer engineering researcher in the Swanson School, said Hispanic Heritage Month is a way for students of Hispanic and Latino background to feel like they’re home while in college, with events such as Noche de Ciencias, the Hispanic heritage festival Dia de le Raza and the Valentine’s Day event, Chocolate Night, serving as common and familiar ground for bonding.

“This is kind of our only time when out main focus is about celebrating our heritage while we’re away from our families,” she said. “Even growing up in high school, maybe your friends didn’t share the same interests as you, so it’s nice to come together with a group that has similar traditions with your family.”

Today, the Pitt chapter has about 30 active members, nearly double from a few short years ago. While Hispanic Heritage Month is coming to a close, the society members hope to do more for diversity and inclusion in the coming years.