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Monday, May 29, 2023

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(From left) SDSU Engineering Students Jeanette Arratia, Karla Navarrete, Arely Nieblas, and Bernice Gudino posed in their SHPE polos. (SDSU) (From left) SDSU Engineering Students Jeanette Arratia, Karla Navarrete, Arely Nieblas, and Bernice Gudino posed in their SHPE polos. (SDSU)

Latinas in Engineering

For International Latinas in Engineering Week, SDSU’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers shared their journeys through STEM majors.
By Melinda Sevilla

Mechanical engineering student Bernice Gudino was in middle school when she first stepped onto the San Diego State University campus for a STEM workshop.   

“I built a bridge out of Popsicle sticks that had to withstand a bag full of pennies,” recalled Gudino. 

That’s the moment Gudino said she knew SDSU’s College of Engineering was exactly where she wanted to be.

A first-generation Latina college student, Gudino is now a fourth-year biomedical engineering student and outreach coordinator of the SDSU chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). SHPE is a student organization with the goal of guiding Hispanic/Latinx students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Members of SHPE participate in professional networking events, develop professional skills, and foster a place for peer support to provide Latinx students with an opportunity to grow their educational experience and career. The SDSU chapter has several female executive team members, but gender and cultural disparities still exist in STEM arenas. 

According to a report by the National Science Foundation, just 13% of engineers are women — and only 2% of those employed engineers are Latina.

“Being a woman in STEM is definitely intimidating because we are entering a male-dominated career and I feel it in all of my classes. It’s a constant battle but I like to think that I’m winning by not giving up,” said Arely Nieblas, SHPE membership coordinator and transfer student studying computer engineering. 

As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, SDSU is uniquely positioned to serve Latina students in the Engineering program. According to data from SDSU’s Office of Analytic Studies and Institutional Research, over 32% of undergrads in the College of Engineering identify as Hispanic/Latinx.

“SDSU is already very culturally diverse, so I have luckily never felt different than my peers here.” However, Gudino said gender inequality is real.

The college also offers Women in Engineering Chats through the college’s Center for Student Success in Engineering, where women in the college get to see themselves in speakers ranging from professors to CEO alumni. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) also provides female students with an opportunity to find a support system on campus.

Still, navigating higher education can be daunting. Even choosing a major can feel intimidating. “My parents did not have the luxury of working a job they necessarily enjoyed, shaping my and my sister's perspective of our career choices,” said Jeanette Arratia, bioengineering student and SHPE secretary. 

To alleviate this, SHPE and other on-campus programs such as the Aztec Mentor Program allow alumni to mentor current students. Take Michelle Davis-Vargas (MS ‘20), who has mentored over 20 Latina engineers at SDSU, including Gudino, Arratia, and Nieblas. 

“One of the tips I give each of my mentees is to get involved and be part of the leadership team for organizations such as SWE and SHPE to build them as leaders and start building their resumes,” said Davis-Vargas, who currently serves as Associate Director of Quality Systems at Pacira Biosciences. 

Davis-Vargas’ mentoring even helped Arratia and Nieblas land an internship last summer at Pacira. “She is a great role model for me and her other mentees. It’s amazing to see Latina representation like her in the engineering field.” Vargas said the pleasure is all hers: “I’m very passionate about mentoring SDSU engineering students.”

The ladies of SHPE are proud of the work their organization has done, both on campus and in the community. “Diversity is all about including others,” said Karla Navarrete, senior mechanical engineering student and SHPE’s vice president of finance. “As a college student, you get to meet a lot of people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s great to get to meet people that are different from me because I get to learn so much from them.” 

As for the journey ahead to graduation, these students will persevere. “Engineering is hard, but even though it’s challenging, it’s also so rewarding,” said Navarrete.