After tough pandemic years, SHPE makes a comeback

The WashU chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) is active once again after a brief hiatus following the COVID-19 pandemic

Danielle Lacey 
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers has returned to the McKelvey School of Engineering following a period of inactivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers has returned to the McKelvey School of Engineering following a period of inactivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded at Washington University in St. Louis in 2016, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) was one of the fastest-growing organizations within the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Members would attend the national organization’s convention each year, as well as host professional development and social events such as its popular “SHPE Under the SEAS,” which played off the former School of Engineering & Applied Science name.

Like many groups, however, the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges that made it difficult for the organization to recruit new members and stay engaged with the community. Eventually, it would become inactive.                            

“There were no more meetings going on due to COVID,” said Nicole Lucas, a junior majoring in computer science and co-president of SHPE. “The exec board lost contact with each other.”

Oscar Ortiz, a master’s student studying computer science, was active in the SHPE chapter at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as an undergraduate student and wanted to bring that experience back to WashU.

“I was more than familiar with what the chapter required and noticed the lack of a presence on the WashU campus after my first semester in spring 2022,” Ortiz said. “I reached out to Jon Silva since I deduced that he was the faculty adviser in the past, and we talked about plans to put the WashU chapter back together.” 

In the fall of 2022, Lucas, Ortiz and nearly a dozen other students worked with Kimberly Cummins, assistant dean of undergraduate student services, to revive the group. They faced several challenges, the biggest being recruitment.

“Club fairs usually take place in early September, but we were starting the whole organization in October, so it was hard to attract members for the convention, which was in November,” Lucas said. “I also felt that SHPE was not very well known on campus after COVID. There aren’t many Hispanic engineers at WashU, so the demographic we target is very narrow.”  

While the group couldn’t bring the organization back fully in 2022, it did have enough support to form a small executive board. Ortiz served as one of the co-presidents, and Lucas served as internal president. 

“I was still working full time, doing my master’s work and spearheading bringing the chapter back,” Ortiz said. “Needless to say, I had quite a bit on my plate.”

Through that hard work, the board would send 16 students to the SHPE national convention that November.

“We were fully funded by McKelvey Engineering, which was amazing because that meant we had faculty support,” Lucas said. “After attending the convention, a lot of students either got internship opportunities or full-time jobs. That was a big accomplishment.”

Lucas is co-president of SHPE with Aldo Estrada, a junior majoring in computer science. Ortiz serves as the group’s student adviser, a position that allows previous board members to stay on and guide the current board, as he transitions to a full-time master’s program.

“I was unable to lead the chapter as rigorously I would have liked, but I'm happy to have helped bring it back to WashU and that its current presidents are doing such a great job,” he said.

Looking ahead, the board is preparing for the upcoming national convention, which will be held in November in Salt Lake City.

“It’s a good opportunity for students to seek internships and full-time jobs,” Lucas said. “We’re planning to incorporate resume workshops and bring in professionals who can speak about tech interviews and developing an elevator pitch.” 

The group’s goals beyond the convention include growing its membership and hosting events to build community among students. While SHPE is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity or major, Lucas said that she hopes the group grows to be a place where Hispanic students can find peers and role models.

“Everyone deserves a role model but not everyone has one,” Lucas said. “My parents didn't go to college, so for me, going to college itself is a milestone. SHPE gave me those role models to look up to.”

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