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SHPE STEM Panelists sitting at the table in front speaking to audience.

Mizzou faculty members talk to students at the third annual SHPE Latin@s in STEM panel. From left to right, Carlos Wexler, Maria Fidalgo, Elizabeth Hoyos and Guilherme DeSouza.

For nearly 50 years, Hispanic Heritage has been celebrated in the U.S. At for a week, then about 30 years ago, the celebration expanded to a month. Between those periods, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) was founded to provide engineering role models in the Hispanic community.

At Mizzou, the College of Engineering’s SHPE chapter celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, which occurs annually between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, with a panel discussion with Latino and Latina academians in STEM fields. For three years, faculty members from the College of Engineering, the Department of Physics and the Department of Biochemistry sit down with students to talk about their personal experiences as Latino and Latina STEM educators and answer students’ questions.

“We host this type of event to show our members that they can also reach their goals no matter how difficult,” said Anthony Cano, Mizzou SHPE president and a senior in civil engineering. “Many of the panelists have overcome language barriers, moving to other countries, changes in cultures and obstacles that all college students face on top of those things. What they reminded us throughout the conversation is that we have to do what makes us happy and that will allow us to live successful lives no matter what.”

College of Engineering faculty members Guilherme DeSouza and Maria Fidalgo, biochem research scientist Elizabeth Hoyos and and physics Professor Carlos Wexler met with students on Oct. 12 and talked about how each came to their STEM fields, the U.S. and Mizzou. DeSouza, who is from Brazil, is an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. For him, engineering was a path he described as “part desire and part luck.”

“My high school offered a program where you coud study technical sciences in the morning or biomedical sciences in the afternoon, but I didn’t want to study in the afternoon.

“You always have to be prepared for doors to open and to walk through them,” DeSouza added.

Civil engineering Assistant Professor Fidalgo agreed.

“You may never know what you want to do in five years,” Fildago, who is from Argentina, said. “Look for what’s open for you to do. Try it, and find out what you like.”

Cano said the opportunity to talk with STEM professionals gives students a chance to better envision their futures.

“Many of us are either first generation college students as well as first generation in terms of living in the U.S. A lot of us are taking this path for the first time, and it’s helpful to hear from those that have walked in our shoes successfully. We can relate to them and not only talk about being successful in our careers but in other parts of our lives,” he said.

The benefits extend to all students, Cano added.

“It’s important to have role models in life to be able to ask questions to no matter what background you are from. SHPE-MU has people of all kinds, and we really encourage people of all backgrounds to join. We don’t just promote the success of Latinos but all diverse people.

“Everyone can learn something from each other, especially when we’ve all had unique experiences growing up and that only makes the group better.”

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