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Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers hosts second STEM Panel

Maria Fidalgo and Guilherme DeSouza look at Carlos Wexler as he speaks.

Civil engineering Associate Professor Maria Fidalgo, physics professor Carlos Wexler and electrical engineering professor Guilherme DeSouza were the featured speakers at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers’ second annual Latin@s in STEM panel. Photo by Hannah Sturtecky.

MU professors from several different departments offered advice to young Latino and Latina students on October 14, when Mizzou’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers hosted its second annual Latin@s in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) panel.

To start the meeting, SHPE treasurer Anthony Cano introduced each of the panel members. Professor Guilherme DeSouza is in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and hails from Brazil. His research interest is in robotic phenotyping, which is a machine vision technique for identifying plants. Carlos Wexler is the director of undergraduate studies and research in the Physics Department and is from Argentina. Wexler’s research topic, condensed matter theory, was described as an observational study of “nano-sponges,” or materials with tiny pores that can store natural gases or hydrogen molecules. Associate Professor Maria Fidalgo is from Argentina and is on the faculty in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

Panel members entertained several questions from students, including descriptions of what a day in the life of a Latino/Latina scientist was like, how student engagement correlates to reaching potential and what inspired them to become scientists. Following these questions, each of the panel members was asked to sum things up and provide some brief advice on how students can have a successful career in science. Wexler said students should “be flexible, be aware,” while Fidlago advised students to “set your long term goals for where you want to go.” DeSouza described his greatest key to success as happiness. “You must be happy to be successful, in any field, especially [a STEM field].”

SHPE advisor Miguel Ayllon closed the meeting, inviting a few words from moderator Brian Booton.

“I feel very blessed to serve as advisor of SHPE,” Ayllon said. “In less than two years, these student leaders have revitalized an organization that was once stagnant. Our SHPE students strive to achieve academic excellence, but they are also positive leaders outside the classroom. I applaud the resilience and servant-leadership they are exhibiting to their peers. I really think that, in the near future, Mizzou can become a hub for talented Latino and Latina scientists.”

“Hispanic, black, short, tall — these shouldn’t get in the way of being successful in a STEM career,” added Cano. “Not only this, but there are also lots of opportunities out there for research and teaching, and it is important that students know what is available out there for them.”

Cano described the goal of SHPE “to create a safe environment for Latino and diverse people so that they can help each other be successful. Also, our mission is as an all-inclusive organization; we want to help all diverse peoples — we want to be able to relate to one another, but also get different perspectives from different backgrounds.”

Cano said he especially responded to DeSouza’s comment about happiness. “Do what you love. Whether it’s research or teaching or whatever, once you find that, run with it and the possibilities will be endless.”

Check out SHPE’s Facebook page for more info on upcoming events as well as some photos of the organization’s events and its current 30 members.