Familia Unida

Marlon Solito-Vargas '16, Elizabeth Castorena '17 and Luis Lorenzo '16 have been active in launching Bradley University's Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers chapter. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
October 27, 2015

Members of Bradley’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers are building bridges to the next generation of engineers through a mentoring partnership with Peoria’s Manual High School.

Bradley’s SHPE chapter, which formed in 2014, mentors Manual students while it creates a supportive environment for engineering majors of all backgrounds on the Hilltop. It aims to boost Hispanic youths’ interest in engineering, as they comprise just 6 percent of the engineering and science workforce, according to the National Science Foundation.

Civil engineering major Marlon Solito-Vargas ’16 embraced SHPE’s outreach mission as a first-generation college student from Wheeling, Illinois. The son of war refugees from El Salvador, Solito-Vargas relied on Google to find Hispanic engineers for inspiration as a high school student.

His Google results were discouraging.

“When I was younger, I had no Hispanic role models pushing me,” he said. “I wish I would’ve had an organization like this to help me along the way. Because of that lack of role models, we’re molding our chapter into what we wish we had as kids.”

Bradley students began volunteering at Manual last year as the first step to build a supportive community for high school students with STEM interests. The collegiate group tutors students, assists in bilingual classes and guides youth through engineering-relate projects.

The goal is to form a SHPE Jr. chapter this academic year.

These activities spark young imaginations and forge bonds that grow stronger with time.

“It’s amazing to watch the effect our members and volunteers have at Manual,” said SHPE chapter president Luis Lorenzo ’16, a mechanical engineering major from Chicago. “We’re like older brothers and sisters who are there for them no matter the cultural differences. So many kids across America need that.”

Students also are excited about club growth on campus. They offer tutoring to classmates of all academic backgrounds, arrange guest lectures and attend several conventions each year.

Another benefit is SHPE’s connections to the professional world. With more than 250 collegiate chapters, plus high school and professional organizations, SHPE is the largest technical organization in the U.S. for college students. This network enables current and future engineers numerous opportunities to explore interests, sharpen skills or give back to the community.

One reason the SHPE network, including Bradley’s chapter, has grown is its diversity. While it targets Hispanic audiences, the organization reaches students of all cultural backgrounds.

“I saw how close the SHPE family was last year, and that grabbed my attention,” said Elizabeth Castorena ’17, an industrial engineering major from Blue Island, Illinois. “What makes the Bradley chapter so unique is the fact that it acts as supportive family, a home away from home.”

Bradley’s SHPE chapter will mark a milestone in November when it is recognized at the annual national conference. The Manual SHPE Jr. chapter will gain official recognition in time for the spring semester.