Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off

By Anastasia Marchenkova

Contributing Writer

Hispanic Business magazine has named Tech as the number one program for Hispanic Engineering graduate programs. The diversity of the Institute is undergoing massive growth in the size and quality of Hispanic education, and Hispanics are by far the fastest growing ethnic class at Tech.

National Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15th and will last for 31 days. Seven countries, including Mexico, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica have their independence days within this one-month period. Columbus Day also falls within this time period.

This celebration began as National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and was expanded into a full month observance in 1988. The term “Hispanic” is actually an ethnic term which encompasses people of many different races and origins and does not refer to one specific race; it refers to all Spanish-speaking areas of the world.

This year, Tech welcomes 126 new Hispanic freshmen to campus, in addition to the 888 that made up the Tech Hispanic population in the fall of 2007. At Tech, there are many different Latino organizations. One of the largest is the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), an on campus organization that helps Hispanics network within the job industry and provides a career forum to develop business skills.

The SHPE chapter at Tech has about 110 members as of fall 2008. Jonathan Duarte, a fourth-year IE major, president of the SHPE Tech chapter for ‘08-‘09, says “[SHPE] is a little bit different. We are one of the strongest chapters [in the nation], due to the sheer number of members and support of the companies.” Companies, including GE, HP, Xerox, Delta, Lockheed Martin and many others, frequently run informational sessions on skills such as building resumes and interviewing.

“The idea [of SHPE] is not to make us feel better about ourselves but to collaborate,” Duarte said. In addition to more formal career fairs and company recruiting events, the companies interact with SHPE students in an informal setup to allow students a chance to talk with the company representatives in a less stressful environment.

SHPE is not only a professional organization, it is a way to meet students and other people, as well as help the community. “It is a way to make friend of the same path or background,” Duarte said.

The support within the organization also extends to companies offering scholarships to students excelling in engineering. SHPE has two directors of recruiting for the organization, who are in charge of organizing events such as “Latino Welcome Week” to recruit new Tech Hispanics into the organization as well as tutoring inner-city Atlanta students in math and science.

But what makes Tech the number one graduate program for engineering? According to Patricio Vela, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the faculty advisor for SHPE, it’s the fact that Georgia has a vested interest in making Tech the leading university in the state and that Tech has a positive impact on the local economy and global research.

The state support for education, which includes scholarships, allows more students than ever to choose Tech as the place for their undergraduate and graduate education.

“The value of the PhD is undervalued [in general]” Vela said.

Tech holds access to research facilities that many other schools do not have, like the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Duarte said that when at local and state career fairs, “it is great to see how people react when you say you go to Tech.”

The diversity at Tech is evident from the statistics gathered.

“[Tech] allows you to understand different cultural perspectives,” Vela said, through the interaction between all the various people on campus. As globalization is happening, “companies place a lot of emphasis on diversity,” Duarte emphasizes, and “the ability to interact with different cultures and perspectives is a skill that recruiters seek.”

To students like Duarte, National Hispanic Heritage Month is “a way to remember our culture and our roots”.

Other student organizations, such as the Spanish Speaking Organization (SSO), Hispanic Recruitment Team (HRT), the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), and the Lambda Upsilon Lambda fraternity, work with SHPE and each other in a council to bring together their goals and spread them to the Tech community and outside areas. SGA also supports SHPE and other Latino organizations by providing funds for travel expenses to places such as business conferences and out of town career fairs.

“A lot of us have blended with the American culture, but it’s good to remember where we came from” Duarte said.