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Exploratorium’s Latinx Engineering Day Boosts Representation

Latinx Engineering Day took place at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on September 26, 2021. It included a panel of many renowned Latinx engineers who gave speeches about their careers, journeys, and achievements. The event started with an introduction by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), an organization dedicated to increasing the involvement and representation of Hispanic and Latinx people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. 

“Unfortunately, there aren’t that many Hispanics in the STEM field, so we’re trying to bridge that gap,” said Adam Smith, an employee at the Exploratorium. “[SHPE] has more than 13,000 members across the country.” 

Andres Brender, a video journalist who works for Telemundo Bay Area, mediated the speeches of the exposition. The speakers included Linda Rentería, Norberto Sanchez-Dichi, Itzel Gomez, Eliza Ravelo, and Eddie Salazar. 

These engineers spoke of their past and the events that led up to their current-day positions. Rentería, who is a civil engineer with a masters in construction management, spoke about all the jobs she has carried out throughout her professional career.

“I used to work for PG&E for 10 years, and I worked at a nuclear power plant … and I worked at a school in a sound studio,” Rentería said. She currently works as the chief operating officer at Casa Sanchez Foods. She also said she stopped working physically for 15 years to “take part in my biggest project: my kids.” 

“I wanted to do that, because I was able to do that,” she said. “[Later on] I joined the company and now I manage the operations of the factory, 140 employees … It’s very rewarding because everything we do has to do with engineering.”

The next speaker, Sanchez-Dichi, an electrical engineer, spoke about his most recent project. 

“I got hired just two to three months ago, and it’s a startup that is [about] designing satellites.” The company works to provide Internet access to places that don’t have optic fiber, good connectivity, or even proper access to electricity. 

The third speaker was Salazar, a computer engineer, who said he chose computer science because this career path allowed him to work in a variety of different fields.

“Currently, my favorite project has been working on the smallest robot that will have ever gone to the moon,” he said. 

The penultimate speaker was Itzel Gomez, an environmental engineer. She said that she was working on a project with lots of different partners in the city of Pinole. 

“Together, all of us are working on trying to understand the sources and the path of [contamination] that’s moving within the Pinole Creek Watershed,” she said. 

The last speaker was Ravelo, a mechanical engineer, who discussed her work on COVID-19 masks.

“We are building a mask with a helmet designed to filter air, and make it almost 100 percent clean,” she said. “These were used by medics, nurses, and other people working in hospitals to protect them from COVID-19.” 

Later in the event, there was a round of questions where audience members had an opportunity to ask the panelists their thoughts on certain subjects.

One audience member asked the group of speakers if they had ever faced any challenges in college or life given their Hispanic background. Sanchez-Dichi answered in the affirmative to this question. “Yeah, sure. I grew up in East Los Angeles, where 99.99 percent [of the population] are Mexican,” he said. “When I went into college, it was only about 1 percent Mexican or Latinx in general, so that was one of the big culture shocks I had. Immediately and naturally, I sought out people that looked like me, and that’s when I found about SHPE, which then propelled me to work even harder for my dreams.” 

To all the young aspiring Latinx students, Sanchez-Dichi added, “You can be in college even though you look different or maybe you also talk differently, but you can go to any college and still be successful and do the same things and get a good job like everyone else.” 

Rentería said that because of her traditionally Indigenous looks, people have been prejudiced towards her. 

“The colors of the spectrum are not just brown, no. There’s colors in the spectrum,” Rentería said. “I want to be viewed as a person who is an engineer and is working hard … but I want you to respect who I am, not what I look like and [not] make assumptions without getting to know me,” she added. 

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