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Thanks To The Pandemic, Latino Iowa Engineering Students Can Attend A Professional Conference

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University of Iowa students can attend this year's national SHPE convention. "That opportunity for our attendees, again, something that's made possible, because it's virtual," Tamez said.

The pandemic shut down most opportunities to socialize, but it opened up an opportunity for engineering students in Iowa.

Oddly enough, COVID-19 has benefitted Latino Iowans in the STEM fields in one aspect.

When the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) could not hold its national convention in Colorado due to the pandemic, they switched to an online option. This came as great news for Hispanic engineering students in Iowa because now, they could attend. SHPE chapter president at the University of Iowa Gabriela Moya said the web convention offers more opportunities to Hispanic STEM students, who are already underrepresented in the field.

"I think it is a very great 'Pro,'" Moya said. "You get to be able to speak to people that you normally would not be able to speak with, especially in these conferences that are virtual."

The UI senior is studying chemical engineering and wants to work in the research and development area for a cosmetic company.

Moya said her chapter could sponsor every one of its members to attend this year because they did not have to worry about plane tickets and hotel costs. The cost of attendance is $200.

Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO, added on to Moya's point and said because of the lower costs of attendance, she expects a larger turnout, especially from Hispanic STEM students in the Midwest.

“And people that wouldn’t normally be able to come can now come because they don't have all the travel expenses, and hotel and food and all of that," Tamez said.

Tamez also said more Iowa students attending the convention is an especially a good thing because more diverse STEM professionals are needed in the state. Tamez said on a national level, Hispanic and/or Latino engineers only make up around eight percent of the occupation. In 2015, Hispanic and/or Latino engineers and scientists only made up about 6 percent of the overall occupation.

Moya said one of the most important sources the SHPE national convention provides is networking and mentorships. She pointed out how the engineering field is still heavily dominated by men, so she hopes her chapter members will find Hispanic role models to help them achieve their academic and career goals.

"The reason why I go to conferences is to gain mentors, to be able to expand my network, learn more about other people and keep growing on my career path," Moya said. "I think everyone should have a mentor. I think everyone should have their role models. Because, honestly, I don't think I would have been where I'm at right now if it wasn't for my mentors."

The online convention will allow for even more time to gain those mentors Moya talked about. Tamez said SHPE has been able to more than double the amount of student-employer interviews from two a day to five a day because of the online platform.

"So more interviews, more interview rooms, more opportunities to have your resume reviewed by professionals and experts. We have all kinds of dynamic things happening over 200 sessions," Tamez said.

SHPE will also be hosting engineering competitions with up to $50,000 in cash prizes. Another plus, Tamez added, the conference recording will be available to attendees for up to a year. The opening ceremony starts the convention on Oct. 26 and goes through the end of the month.