Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Engages Local Students Through “Noches de Ciencias” Event

By Sarah Chase

UA students talk to a classroom

SHPE, HLA and ALPFA members speak with students about STEM-related fields at the Noches de Ciencias event.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers hosted its second annual Noches de Ciencias event on March 28. Partnering with the Hispanic Latino Association and the Association of Latino Professionals for America to host the “Night of Science” at Echols Middle School, the three organizations were able to combine fun and science in order to encourage students to explore STEM-related fields.

This year, the organizations led 40 students in a bridge-building activity that involved using cups and construction paper. The students also participated in a friendly competition to test which bridge could hold the most candy.

“We demonstrated what you [can] do as a civil engineer,” said Sofia Estela, vice president of SHPE and a junior majoring in civil engineering. “Once their experiments failed, that was when they got to keep however much candy their bridge was able to hold. They were able to use what they had learned to make a second bridge and had the opportunity to get more candy.”

Person stacks candy on cardboard and plastic cups
Students stack candy on their self-constructed bridges to see how much it can hold.

However, Noches de Ciencias provides students with far more than just candy and a fun evening. The three organizations also focus on adding to the educational experience by sharing knowledge about college and scholarship opportunities.

“We talk to them about how to apply to college and [when they should] start thinking about applying to college,” said Alexander Taylor, president of SHPE and a senior majoring in metallurgical engineering. “We give them tips on what looks better for them to do to get into college.”

SHPE is dedicated to cultivating interest in the STEM field among middle schoolers. The organization hopes to encourage more young Hispanic and Latino students to pursue an education in engineering and related fields, even if it’s a possibility they have not previously considered.

“[We aim] to really give them a role model. It is nice to give them a face to put with something that seems unachievable. It makes it more real and feasible for them,” Estela said. “A lot of Hispanic students come from lower-income families and feel as if they have less opportunity to get a higher education and go to college, so it is super important that we go there and show them that we are just like them.”

Looking toward the future, SHPE hopes to expand its efforts by including parents in the conversation as part of the next Noches de Ciencias event. The organization’s goal is to educate parents on scholarships and the importance of planning ahead for college so that they can provide support to their students.

“It would be good to get the parents involved and have a separate area or event for them to talk about what college looks like and financial resources,” Taylor said. “I don’t know that a lot of people [are aware] that there are specific scholarships for Hispanic students and Hispanic engineers, so if they become aware of those resources then maybe they can start pushing their child to apply for these scholarships.”

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,200 students and more than 170 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

Author: Sarah Chase    /    Posted on: April 18, 2024    /    Posted in:   Outreach, Students