Northwestern’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers works to diversify, increase outreach


Photo courtesy of SHPE’s executive board.

SHPE members pose with Project LETS members after a mental health event.

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

Since Northwestern’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers first formed in 1992, the organization has provided community and career support to Latine students taking classes in the McCormick School of Engineering.

Now, with an 18-member executive board and events attended by over 100 students, the group is also seeking to diversify internally and engage more of the NU community.

Ellen Worsdall, the group’s adviser, has been working with the NU chapter of the national organization since October 2000. She said the students’ ambition is one of the things she appreciates most about working with SHPE, Worsdall said. 

“(NU and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) tend to attract unbelievably dynamic individuals who really believe in making a difference in the world,” Worsdall said.

McCormick junior and SHPE President Antonio Rocha said he joined SHPE to advance his academics and find a strong community on campus. 

“We try to be like a community for the freshmen (to) get them to know one another and get some leadership experience on their resume,” Rocha said. “That would be helpful to do things over the summer, like (an) internship in the future.”

One of the group’s recent priorities has been increasing the number of female students in the organization as a whole and on its executive board. McCormick sophomore and co-Outreach Chair Vianey Guadian has been working on this effort.

Guadian said she was raised in Brighton Park, a neighborhood of Chicago that’s 81% Latine.  When she arrived at NU last year, she said the contrast in diversity was stark. At NU, she’s a Latina at a predominantly white institution and a woman in a majority male field of study. 

“In the core classes, which is generally what McCormick students take, you see 30% of the class are women,” Guadian said. “This disparity made me uncomfortable.”

Even within SHPE, Guadian said she didn’t immediately feel comfortable. When she first joined, she said she was hesitant to attend meetings because it was very “male-dominated,” with only about 25% of the group identifying as women. 

However, she and her friends ultimately decided to join in an effort to change that demographic.

“We wanted to see more women from the same backgrounds as us in positions that help Latino and Hispanic students connect to Northwestern,” Guadian said. “(We also saw it as) as a good way to find a support system with people that I could relate to (and) a way to network with other students and companies.”

Though it has not always been the case in the past, women currently comprise around half of the organization. Rocha, Guadian and Worsdall all said they are proud of the increase in gender diversity the organization has seen over the past few years.

Members also take pride in the organization’s outreach efforts, both to other NU organizations and to Chicago-area schools like Evanston Township High School. The group is also hosting a Lakefill soccer tournament Saturday for its members and the larger NU community. 

Rocha said he enjoys participating in these events because he sees it a way of paying his education forward. 

“(When I was in high school), people from SHPE came and held an engineering event to bring awareness about what engineering was and things like that,” Rocha said. “Once I came to college, I wanted to see if that was a thing that existed.” 

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Twitter: @SOrtiz2000

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