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More than 400 middle- and high schoolers from across the state of Michigan will participate on Friday in a workshop designed to inspire students from Hispanic backgrounds to pursue careers in engineering.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Foundation’s Pre-College Symposium aims to level the playing field for the nation’s fastest growing ethnic population. At the day-long event, students will use catapults, build model cars, and participate in an Internet of Things hackathon. They'll also attend a college fair and sessions on how to pick a school and apply.

When compared with national demographics, Hispanic representation in the engineering field is disproportionately low. Studies have shown that a relatively lower number of Hispanic students choose majors in so-called STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and math. And a lower percentage of these students who initially choose STEM majors end up finishing those degrees.

“There are a lot of factors at play, but we have a sense that many of these students are the first generation in their family to go to college. That puts them at a disadvantage. What we are trying to do is to level the playing field by providing equal access to information to a large number of young people,” said Professor Alec Gallimore, associate dean for academic affairs at Michigan Engineering. “This disconnect is not healthy for the profession or our nation.”

Alex Misorski, Fabian Gutierrez, Michelle Lozano, Angela Hinojosa, and Cindy Amoles test a jet-engine (balloon-powered) car during a workshop during the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Pre-College Symposium at the Michigan League in Ann Arbor, MI on November 7, 2014. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing.

Both the conference and the pre-college symposium provide opportunities for students to see and interact with engineering professionals that look like them...if you can see it, you can be it.
-Robert Scott

The event is part of SHPE’s annual conference, which is in Detroit Nov. 5-9. U-M is a sponsor and many faculty members and administrators will speak at sessions there.

“Both the conference and the pre-college symposium provide opportunities for students to see and interact with engineering professionals that look like them,” said Robert Scott, director of the Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach at Michigan Engineering. “If you can see it, you can be it.”

The pre-college symposium also aims to help fill the unmet demand for engineers in the U.S. – a demand the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow four times faster than other professions over the next decade.

“We are pleased to collaborate with the University of Michigan on this,” said Barry Cordero, president and interim CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). “This is one of many programs aimed to inspire young Hispanic students to discover how fun math and science can be, learn about career opportunities in STEM and about resources to pay for and apply to college.”

Highlights of the symposium include:

  • Internet of Things hackathon: Workshop leaders will build sample projects include a “space alien detector” and a PacMan game, then give high school juniors and seniors a chance to make something with Intel’s Internet of Things developer kit. 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the U-M Alumni Center Founders Room. Demos will be shown 1:30 – 2 p.m.
  • Building balloon motor cars: Students will assemble model race cars with motors made of balloons. GM is sponsoring the workshop, which will show students how to work like a professional engineering team. 9:40 – 4 p.m. in the Vandenberg room.
  • Let’s use a catapult! This session sponsored by the Navy will let students use a catapult to explore science, technology and mathematics principles. 9:40 – 4 p.m. in the Henderson room.

Registration is closed, but media representatives may attend. Workshops take place at the Michigan League, 911 N. University on U-M’s Central Campus in Ann Arbor. The hackathon will be in the U-M Alumni Center at 200 Fletcher St.

Sponsors are the University of Michigan, General Motors, Dow, Intel, NAVSEA/NAVAIR, US Army, Kellogg’s, Chrysler and Alcoa.

Article topics: Outreach , Diversity

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