A Legacy of Leadership

Oct 09 2019 | By Jesse Adams | Photo courtesy of SHPE

Jeanie Handal '21 (second row, second from right) and Brandon Cuervas '20 (third row, far right) alongside fellow SHPE members at their reunion last month, an event bringing student and professional members together from the NY-NJ area.

For biomedical engineer Brandon Cuevas ‘20, treasurer and former president of the Columbia University chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the people and experiences he’s encountered through the organization have shaped his undergraduate career “in the best way possible.”

“I first joined SHPE with the thought that it would help advance my career, but it did so much more than that,” the senior said. “I found my niche, my second home, and my scaffold of intellectual and emotional support. It became the tight-knit familia I longed for and thought I’d never be able to find at a large place like Columbia.”

Every year, SHPE brings together students of highly diverse backgrounds to boost one another and take on the mission of achieving a more inclusive and equitable profession. In addition to organizing visits to companies like Google and Accenture, holding workshops for academic and professional development, and linking students to broader networks of alumni and fellow Hispanic engineers, the organization also keeps busy inspiring the next generation—from hosting events sharing STEM with hundreds of middle and high school students to partnering with IBM to mentor elementary schoolers from low-resource neighborhoods.

This past spring, in association with the non-profit HISPA (Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement) and several companies, members put together a full-day youth conference convening over 150 students from throughout the New York City area on campus for a variety of talks and activities ranging from college prep to cybersecurity and the Internet of Things.

Later in the semester, they teamed up with CCNY’s chapter to stage a Noche de Ciencias (Night of Science) event at Manhattan Bridges High School downtown with a variety of interactive experiments demonstrating principles of chemistry and physics. And, taking part in a program with IBM, they educated and mentored STEM-inclined fifth-graders from Port Chester, New York via online interactions and a number of in-person gatherings.

“Working with all of the students was incredibly rewarding,” Cuevas said. “Each and every one of them were passionate in pursuing their dreams and had an insatiable hunger for knowledge, with copious questions about what different kinds of engineers do and what skills they need to be successful.”

Increasingly, Columbia SHPE has been joining forces with counterparts from across the region and beyond to expand their networks and reach more underrepresented talent, and they recently hosted a meeting convening every SHPE chapter in New York City. So far this semester, members have commemorated Hispanic Heritage Month on campus and focused on making the most of the national SHPE convention, the largest gathering of Latinx engineers in the United States, raising funds to help bring more members along to Phoenix in November and holding workshops including resume sharpening and the art of the interview.

They’re also busy planning another conference with HISPA for this spring, welcoming representatives from companies like AirBnB and Capital One, organizing events laying out graduate research opportunities, and linking Hispanic engineers at Columbia.

“To foster more community within our general body, we’re also setting up biweekly study sessions,” said Jeanie Handal ’21, SHPE’s president for 2019-2020. “The idea is to have a relaxed environment for the SHPE familia to work together and get to know each other better.”

Among all that it offers, the chapter’s deep sense of family and fellowship has meant the most to Cuevas over the past three years, and will keep him involved long after he graduates.

“The community I’ve met through SHPE has enabled me to soar to greater heights than I could have imagined as an inexperienced freshman,” he said. 

The community I’ve met through SHPE has enabled me to soar to greater heights than I could have imagined.

Brandon Cuevas '20
Treasurer, SHPE