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Workshop offers elementary students glimpse into engineering
Contact: Melissa Vasquez 956/381-2741
Posted: 04/06/2009
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After having participated in the second annual El ABC de la Ciencia (The ABC's of Science) workshop Monday, April 6 at The University of Texas-Pan American, E.B. Guerra Elementary first grade student Javier Padilla said he would like to pursue a career as an engineer one day.

Chris Graza, a SHPE member and UTPA freshman mechanical engineering student, assists Javier Padilla (kneeling), Aaron Gomez (back), and Joel Kartaño (right), all first grade students at Edinburg E.B. Guerra Elementary, build a robot using LEGO blocks.

"I really had fun today and I loved it (the workshop)," Padilla, an Edinburg CISD student, said. "I know when I grow up I want to be an engineer and build cool cars."

Padilla was one of 96 kindergarten through second grade students from surrounding schools in the Edinburg and McAllen area who took part in the mini workshop hosted by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) at UTPA, a more than 150-member student organization on campus. SHPE is a national organization of professional engineers that serve as role models in the Hispanic community.

Hoping to inspire the next generation of engineers, SHPE president and senior mechanical engineering student Pedro Gonzales, said the goal of the event is to help elementary students discover their natural problem-solving skills and show them how to apply what they learned in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In addition, Gonzales said SHPE's ultimate goal is to get young Hispanics interested in possible science and engineering careers early on in their lives.

"More than anything we want these kids to have a better understanding of what it means to be an engineer and to know that they can be engineers," Gonzales, a Roma, Texas native, said. "We really want to inspire these kids to do great things in engineering and science."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Hispanic engineers account for 6.7 percent of the engineering workforce in the country.

"If we can get more children exposed at a younger age to engineering then we can build a pipeline that will hopefully get more Hispanic engineers out there," Gonzales said.

Pictured left to right are Edinburg CISD Monte Cristo Elementary kindergarten students Jesus Estrada, Rolando Garza, Ashley Sierra, and Veronica Rodriguez, all working together to construct a bridge using popsicle sticks.

The event allowed the elementary students to step out of their classroom and onto the Edinburg campus to learn about the many areas of engineering - electrical, mechanical, manufacturing, and civil engineering. The youngsters also participated in hands-on activities, including a mechanical engineering activity assembling a robot using LEGO blocks, a civil engineering project building a bridge using popsicle sticks, and an electrical engineering activity using snap circuits.

E.B. Guerra Elementary first grade teacher Lourdes Lopez said she was excited to bring the students to a college setting and show them what they can study and eventually become if they have an interest in science and engineering.

"I am so glad I brought them because it is really making them think and show their creativity. Right now the light bulbs in their heads are going off from all the excitement of today's activities," Lopez said.

Lopez said after attending the workshop she plans to implement more hands-on activities in her classroom to peak her students' interests in the STEM fields.

Pictured left to right are Discovery School kindergarten students Sophia Niño, Kendra Sanchez, Gerardo Vela, and Kalei Serrano, receiving assistance from SHPE member and UTPA senior mechanical engineering student Myra Sanchez (center) on how to operate the snap circuits.

"I think UTPA should have more of these types of events for younger kids because it might just help them decide to go into engineering," Lopez, who brought 12 students, said.

The SHPE student organization hosts similar activities and competitions for middle and high school students throughout the year as well. In addition, the UTPA chapter also supports a SHPE junior chapter at the high school level at Rio Grande City High School. Gonzales said the organization hopes to add two additional SHPE junior chapters next year.

"It is a lot of work what we do, but at the end of the year it is really great knowing that we helped inspire some of the kids to hopefully become engineers," Gonzales said.

To learn more about SHPE at UTPA and its activities, call 956/563-8673, e-mail pgonzalesiii@yahoo.com, or visit http://www.engr.panam.edu/~shpe/.