Are Latinos the Next Generation of STEM Innovators?

If SHPE has anything to do with it, the answer is “yes”.

STEM-logoUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you know that we are experiencing a growing economy in the hi-tech sector.  Why do I say this?  2013 was a big year for IPOs such as Twitter, FireEye and Barracuda Network.   For startups, venture capital financing hit $29.2 billion across 3354 deals. Behind the continued surge in early-stage seed venture capital deals, 2013 marked the fifth straight year of record venture capital deal levels.  Compared to 2012, 2013 saw venture capital deals rise 3%.  With these opportunities, the so-called ‘American Dream’ is within reach for many.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 3.7 million open jobs in the U.S. economy within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.  Over the next five years, the United States is expected to add as many as 1.3 million new STEM jobs.  Sounds promising?  Not so fast. Despite the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, millions of STEM positions remain vacant because there are not enough qualified applicants to fill them.

According to the National Research Council, the relative number of Latino graduates in STEM fields is  still not at the same level compared to other ethnic groups.  This report highlights how Latinos have the lowest rates of high school and college degree attainment, which creates barriers to education opportunities and hinders their chances for stable employment.  Throughout the nation and in a wide range of industries, there is an urgent demand for workers trained in the STEM fields — yet there are not enough people with the necessary skills to meet that demand and help drive innovation.

If Latinos are to prosper in this global economy and have the same opportunity as others in the United States, then that is the opportunity STEM presents, in that STEM education gives people contemporary skills to become “innovators” and “game changers” in today’s economy.  So, where are the Latinos in STEM?

Rod Garcia_SHPE

(L-R) Rodrigo Garcia, David Lopez, Sylvia Flores, Edward Avila, Hana Yang

This is where The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) comes in.  For those who are not familiar with SHPE, it is an organization that was founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1974 by Rodrigo T. Garcia and a group of engineers employed by the city of Los Angeles.  Their objective was to form a national organization of professional engineers to serve as role models in the Hispanic community.  Today, SHPE enjoys a strong but independent network with over 250 student chapters and 10,000 members across the nation.

Recently, I had the good fortune to experience one of the most amazing conferences in my professional career.  We partnered with SHPE at their Region II Leadership Conference in San Diego on April 17 – 20, 2014.  With this year’s theme of, “Come ride the WAVE to your future”, the conference expanded its program to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship for the very first time.  Manos Accelerator was asked to deliver a unique track that would provide insight into the startup ecosystem and expose SHPE members to entrepreneurship opportunities.  Why is this significant?  For starters, I met over 300 Latino and Latina college students in STEM majors and I spent over two days networking with them.  I must say, these Latino students were very impressive – they came from various universities across California and Arizona and they represent some of the brightest and most eager students that I ever met.  It appeared like many students were ready to break through walls and solve some of our biggest challenges of today.

As I learned more about SHPE, I discovered that they have been aggressively driving STEM programs and initiatives to help tackle these issues and close the national gap.  Over the years, they have introduced mentoring & networking programs, education outreach activities, scholarships and science-related events for students and parents.  These programs are intended to both enrich Latino students’ educational experience and recruit students into engineering fields of study.  In November of this year, SHPE will be hosting their annual national conference in Detroit where they expect to attract over 5,000 engineering professionals, students and corporate representatives.  The conference is an opportunity to provide educational, technical and career opportunities for professional and student engineers.  However, it doesn’t stop there.  SHPE is now expanding entrepreneurship into their mission as another option for students and professionals.

“More and more Latinos with engineering degrees are seeking alternatives to traditional engineering corporate roles.  Entrepreneurship is one of those viable career options” said Heidy Arriola, Region II Vice President of SHPE. “SHPE recognizes this trend and is expanding its focus to incorporate more programs and resources to meet this need for our SHPE members.”

That is the reason why for the first time, SHPE partnered with Manos Accelerator to provide SHPE members with a peek of the entrepreneurship landscape through a Silicon Valley lens.  The entrepreneur track was one of four other tracks offered at the Regional II Leadership Conference.  It heavily emphasized real-world insights from startup founders, venture capital (VCpanelists, tips on how to pitch to investors and an “open mic” pitch competition.  The 2-day curriculum involved industry experts such as Jacqueline Diaz, Founder of Amigapreneur, Lala Castro, Founder of Latina Geeks, Carlos Rosario of Novak Druce Law Firm, Dennis Doucette, Paul Johnson and Pattric Rawlins of Procopio Law Firm, Phillip Walker of NSP Capital, Miguel Marshall of Angel Ventures Mexico, Jennifer Argüello of Kapor Center for Social Impact,  Miguel A. de Jesus of Purpose & Actions, and  Todd G. Poling of Vantage Point Advisors.  The track provided a thorough exposure to the many building blocks of an entrepreneurial career.

I applaud SHPE for taking a leadership role with making STEM a priority and connecting with so many bright Latino and Latina students.  SHPE is making the right moves with the goal to increase the number of Latino STEM graduates into the workforce.  They are committed to helping our nation fill a growing void of home grown engineers and scientists in this decade and beyond.

At San Diego, I witnessed a robust conference where SHPE partnered with industry leaders and corporations to cultivate the next generation of Latino STEM “game changers”, which is much needed to fuel innovation and ensure global competitiveness.  To say the least, our nation’s economic future depends on it.  Latinos are projected to account for 75 percent of the growth in the nation’s labor force by 2020.  If my experience from participating in the SHPE conference is any indication of the up and coming talent and the next generation of STEM innovators, then all I have to say is that I’ve seen the future and it looks so bright.

Keep up the good work SHPE!!!

SHPE logo


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