two students looking at laptop and sitting on red chairs

Engineering Success

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) forges a path for tomorrow’s innovators

By Ellen Cooke

As a child growing up in the Bronx and a first-generation Dominican American raised by a single parent, Geuris German ’22 may not have pictured himself pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering at Stony Brook University (SBU). But like fellow alumni during the past two decades, German received encouragement, support and the tools he needed to chase his dreams through SBU’s student-run Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) chapter. 

student writing on blackboard

The SHPE program set member Derek Ruilova up for success with his chosen career right after graduation this May.

The mission of SHPE (pronounced “Shep”) is to increase representation of Hispanics in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and empower all members to realize their full potential. German heard about the group from a tutor in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) office his freshman year and “it became the catalyst for all my academic and career-related accomplishments from that time forward,” he said.

German’s achievements include internships at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and SBU’s Advanced Energy Center, as well as presenting an award-winning poster at the 2022 Advanced Energy Conference. 

“SHPE advisors helped me with my résumé, taught me invaluable professional skills and were always there to answer my questions, each step of the way,” he said. “When it came time to look for real-world experience, I was pitching myself as a worthwhile candidate and I had so many companies coming to me with opportunities.”

Derek Ruilova ’23 was interested in math and physics from a really young age and knew he wanted to become an aviation engineer one day. But the Ecuadorian also suffered from “imposter syndrome,” saying he never quite felt good enough to pursue his chosen career. During his first two years at SBU, he worried about his GPA and decided to drop his double major. All that changed junior year when he listened to his older cousin and joined SHPE, where he currently serves on the extended executive board (e-board). A systems engineer and Stony Brook alumnus, Nicolle Perez ‘18, was involved in SHPE and SBU’s Society for Women Engineers and has served as a constant source of inspiration for Ruilova.

“My only regret is that I didn’t participate in SHPE sooner,” said Ruilova, who will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in applied mathematics and statistics this May, before beginning his career at Boeing in July as a systems engineer. Ruilova said Boeing’s offer was one of five he received at a SHPE national job fair last November.

“SHPE prepares you with preconference events, demo interviews, all the core things you need,” he said. “Because once you’re in a room with a potential employer, everything is put to the test — you’re one-on-one with them and you get to talk about yourself, not just send a résumé. So, you really need to be prepared.”

Ruilova, a first-generation student, echoed German’s sentiments. “SHPE gave me a new chance at life. I’m dreaming again and I feel like the sky’s the limit.”

SHPE in Action
German and Ruilova are just two examples of the game-changing effects SHPE has had on both Hispanic and non-Hispanic students, past and present, since a group of students brought a chapter of the association to the Stony Brook campus in 1995.

Michael Glick with CEAS students

Michael Glick, coordinator of the CEAS Student Engagement area and a SHPE advisor, with members of the executive board.

It was student Carlos Menjivar who first realized there was a need for more Latino representation in engineering at Stony Brook. He and fellow student Luis A. Gomes pictured an organization that would unite, support and empower Latinos, and they founded the then Society of Hispanic Engineers to try to make that vision a reality. With support from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS), they held a meeting in 1995, with Gomes as the first president. Since that time, the chapter has flourished, thanks in part to the ongoing support of CEAS; the Career Center; and current advisors such as Michael Glick, coordinator of the CEAS Student Engagement area, and Austin Giordano, a longtime SHPE member and now a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. But the true key to the club’s longevity is the group of dedicated students who make up the e-board each year.

Envisioning a world where historically underrepresented Hispanics are valued as leading scientists, mathematicians and engineers, the group’s threefold mission is to build a pipeline for new Hispanic STEM college students, help SBU STEM students manage challenges, and grow a network of alumni to support one another continuously and cultivate the next generation of Hispanics in STEM professions. All events are planned primarily by the members of the e-board.

Like so many underrepresented groups, Hispanic STEM students often suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ because they haven’t seen people who look like them in engineering classrooms, internships or jobs. My mission is to encourage them to always strive to do better, make a big impact on Stony Brook and the overall scientific community, and believe in themselves. We want to give them transferable leadership skills and, if they question whether they belong, we want them to be able to say: ‘I know for a fact that at this university and in this program, there are people who will support me.’
 — Mike Glick, SHPE advisor

Examples of successful programs include its precollege events for high school students, leadership and career development workshops for members, and the partnership with the Career Center to host the CEAS Networking Mixer the morning of every Tech/Engineering Job & Internship Fair.

Earlier this spring, SHPE held its annual Engineering Olympics and Noche de Ciencias (Night of Science) events. A program designed to introduce high schoolers to STEM, Noche de Ciencias epitomizes the strength of Stony Brook’s relationship with Brentwood High School over the past decade.

As it does every year, SHPE also supported and collaborated with the Society for Women Engineers on “SHPEtina” events, which are hosted by women with experience in STEM fields and designed to promote female empowerment. Recent activities — some in March to celebrate Women’s History Month — included a self-defense workshop; a “Discover STEM Day” that gave 10- to 13-years-olds STEM activities and taught them about STEM careers; and Ladies at the Top,” where a panel of women working in the STEM industry at all levels of experience shared their stories and advice.

Image Slide 1

SBU Student Carsi Kim and Mei-Lin "Ete" Chan (right) help a high school student with a STEM project.

Image Slide 3

Students having fun while learning during a recent STEM event.

Image Slide 3

SHPE Secretary Adriana Salomo speaks at the Night of Science event.

Image Slide 3

Christine Veloso from SBU's STEP and C-STEP speaks to Brentwood High School students.

Image Slide 3

A Brentwood High School student using a 3D pen.

Image Slide 3

Brentwood High School students work with 3D pens during the Night of Science as their SHPE Advisor Massiel Ramirez looks on.

Image Slide 3

Kevin Cruz, SHPE president, assists a student with a project.

previous arrow
next arrow

From Childhood Friends to E-board Leads
Current SHPE e-board members Kevin Cruz ’24, Saadat Islam ’23 and Camilo Arias ’23 are working fastidiously to maintain and enhance the legacy of SHPE. They went to school together in Brentwood, but it was their experience at Stony Brook that gave them the greatest awareness and the tools to pursue their chosen STEM fields.

Panel of 5 women sitting at table

The panel at the “Ladies at the Top” event held this past March.

The three spoke enthusiastically about 2023 plans to enrich the experiences of the 40 or so current members. They also shared how SHPE helped set them on the right path.

“During my first year at SBU, I thought it might be hard to make friends. In SHPE, I found a community of like-minded people who want to help and be there for you. I wanted others to have that experience too,” said Cruz, who is the current SHPE president and a civil engineering student. His own passion for engineering, he said, came from his father. “My dad was, and is, my inspiration. Coming to the U.S. from El Salvador, where he never had the opportunity to go to school, he learned English, started his own construction business and always encouraged me to get an education.”

Arias, the previous president, treasurer and current SHPE VP, introduced Cruz and many others to the benefits of the organization. 

“Our neighborhood growing up was predominantly Hispanic and we had no exposure to engineering or even colleges to attend, except when Stony Brook invited Brentwood High students to visit,” he said. “It was my first time on a college campus and I immediately saw myself spending four years there. They talked about diversity in different clubs and how to get involved. I saw inclusivity, which was very important to me.” 

Arias chose mechanical engineering, considering it “the broadest option with the most possibilities” and is currently working in an R&D co-op for a medical device company.

I was thrilled to accept and try to provide as much support as possible to a club that gives students such a wide variety of skills and an irreplaceable amount of professional development,” he said. “I have several friends and colleagues who found jobs through SHPE conferences, and helping as many students as possible through the program is a goal of mine.
—Austin Giordano, longtime SHPE member and Department of Mechanical Engineering instructional support specialist/PhD candidate

Islam is the current treasurer of SHPE and has also served as an event coordinator. Although he is not Hispanic, he said he feels connected to the culture since childhood. “All my friends were Hispanic, and it was always a big deal for me to get involved and try to make a difference. Plus, I received a lot of help with things like my résumé process and how to apply for a job.” 

Derek Ruilova ’23 with Austin Giordano

Derek Ruilova ’23 with Austin Giordano, a longtime SHPE member and now an advisor to the club.

He added, “The first event I worked on as part of the e-board was a precollege day with Brentwood High School,” he said. “That was special for me, as I was thinking ‘I was there once upon a time.’” 

Islam will graduate this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering, a passion fueled by his “obsession with cars, since I was a kid — how they work, the different engines.”

Cruz, Islam and Arias all commented on the satisfaction of seeing up-and-coming SBU students’ eyes light up when they hear about how they can set themselves up for the future. Islam summed it up: “There’s a sense of community, a support system and an insight provided into engineering and STEM.”  

What’s Next for SHPE?
Plans for Fall 2023 include:

  • Hispanic Heritage Month (mid-September to mid-October) series of events, featuring greater collaboration than ever with other Latino organizations, such as the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee and Latin American Student Organization;
  • The SHPE National Convention in Utah in November, providing exclusive job opportunities and interviews, with a strong focus on raising funding to minimize the cost of attending;
  • Precollege Day(s) with Brentwood, possibly expanded to include other high schools. 

Building the Pipeline

SHPE executive board

The SHPE executive board addresses students at the Night of Science event at Brentwood High School.

Over the years, SBU has developed and nurtured a strong partnership with Brentwood High School, which has a large Hispanic population and its own SHPE chapter. Said Massiel Ramirez, bilingual science teacher and SHPE advisor at the school, “Our partnership with Stony Brook helps us provide the best opportunities to our students. The university really focuses on diversity, and students love the inclusive atmosphere they see and feel there.”

Last November, SHPE, along with Department of Biomedical Engineering, Career Center, Department of Technology and Society and various other student groups, partnered to host one of the ongoing precollege days with the school.

About 45 high school students spent a half-day on campus touring the university, playing a technology-focused “Jeopardy!” game, and learning about STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) opportunities of which they may not have been aware. Activity booths featured everything from the wide range of healthcare professions to 3D-printed technologies and origami-inspired STEAM projects. There also was a SHPE booth. 

“These events and the numerous programs we offer are all about engaging students so they can get excited about various STEM opportunities. Many don’t realize how broad the field is”, said Christine Veloso, co-director of the Department of Technology and Society’s Science Technology Entry Program and Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program.

And Mei Lin (‘Ete’) Chan, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, explained, “I always like to use the word pipeline. We’re looking to break down barriers and provide outreach to younger students to keep them interested and let them know they’ll have the support they need. The path is there. As with past events, the students said they felt so good after the event.”

Another successful Stony Brook-Brentwood High collaboration took place just this past March with SHPE’s annual Noche de Ciencias (Night of Science), which inspires Hispanic high school students and their parents to pursue STEM degrees and careers through engaging hands-on activities. About 25 students attended this year’s event.

SHPE Secretary Adriana Salomon said, “The event was amazing and so fulfilling! And the importance of showing students the STEM career paths available to them can’t be overstated. It also gives high schoolers the chance to hear about college experiences, firsthand.”

From the Mouths of SHPE Alums
From operating aircraft carriers to seeking cures for cancer, SBU chapter SHPE alums are making their mark in the world.

Marianna Savoca, associate vice president for career development and experiential education, served as both a SHPE advisor and mentor for more than two decades, and has seen the results of SHPE’s thriving alumni network firsthand. “SHPE has been a consistent stabilizing support system for students and a long-term partner of the Career Center,” she said. “It fills my heart to see the students thrive year after year and pay it forward — to first and second year students at Stony Brook and to high school students through their outreach. And our SHPE alumni give back, and keep giving back. Employers love our SHPE chapter as well — and so many of our SHPE students have graduated, gone on to corporate positions, and brought their companies back to campus to recruit. We love working with SHPE!”

Here’s what some SHPE alums said about the benefits they got, continue to get and how they work to “pay it all forward”:

“Hands down the most important skill I learned in SHPE was public speaking. It made networking and interviewing less scary, and it served me throughout my various leadership roles with the U.S. Navy over the past eight years. At age 22, I found myself down in Washington, D.C., interviewing with an admiral and the next thing I knew they were shaking my hand and I was taking an oath to lead and serve.

“SHPE was also a strong support network for me. There are people from all backgrounds to help you through what can be jarring challenges — incredibly tough tests and courses, career decisions and more. Also, how to effectively communicate about the work you do, which adds so much value.

“I keep in touch with SHPE alumni and encourage current students to make the most of their college experience, take advantage of all these free resources and bond with the team. It’s so much easier and more fun than going it alone!”

     — Dana Angelo, quality engineer, Kite Pharma (biotechnology company); former naval officer; BE Engineering Science (’14); former SHPE president

I came to Stony Brook from City College, where there was a large Hispanic community and a very large SHPE chapter. I immediately wanted to get involved in SHPE at SBU to try to take things to the next level. One of the biggest things we promoted was career fairs, where many of us, including myself, have received multiple job and internship offers. And one of my biggest pitches as president was to remind students that their end goal is to get an education, then start their career right out of college; take things seriously and take advantage of workshops focused on everything from résumé writing and interview skills to dressing for success.

“I’m where I am today because of SHPE, and I continue to try to recruit Stony Brook’s Hispanic engineering students at job fairs.”

     — Alexis Simeonidis, manager project controls, PSEG Long Island; bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering/business management (’05); former SHPE president

“My family migrated to the US from Colombia, South America, when I was 9 years old. In addition to learning English, by high school, I’d found my calling in math and science. I was a first-generation college student and a founding member of the SHPE chapter at my first college, University of New Haven. 

“When I came to Stony Brook for doctoral training, I became very involved in the SHPE chapter here, where I helped students hone their leadership skills, obtain resources, and navigate through multidimensional challenges, like belonging or struggling with English as a second language. As a chapter, we aimed to ease the burdens associated with being the first to go to college and feeling a responsibility to help family members at home. All solutions had one thing in common: developing the courage and skills to be a leader. I’m happy to see STEM programs like SHPE still going strong.” 

      — Cindy Leiton, program manager, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; former SBM program manager, research assistant professor and SBU research scientist; PhD in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology (’14); SHPE student/leadership advisor for 10+ years 


Ellen Cooke is the associate director of internal communications.