This is a three part post. Part 1 lays the foundation for the articles. Parts 2 and 3 are features on some outstanding Burquenos.
Early mentoring leads to success in STEM careers
In the fall of 2001, a group of University of New Mexico engineering students began a mentoring program that would change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of so many other young Hispanic students. The program was called Hermanitos and was part of the outreach effort by the Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization (HESO) at UNM’s School of Engineering. Benito Martinez III was HESO’s Outreach Chair that year and wanted to build on some of the work that HESO’s President Oscar Quinonez had started. As a Highland High School alumnus, Benito knew some of the faculty at Highland and leveraged those relationships to gain access to Hispanic youth in hopes of encouraging them to attend college, study engineering, and purse a technology career. Two people that were instrumental in creating the program were Gabby Duran, Activities Director, and math teacher, Marcos Martinez. Marcos Martinez has continued to champion Latino education. He has been recognized by President Obama for his website which includes math courses taught in English and Spanish.
The Hermanitos program started simply. The college students would bring pizza and talk about going to UNM. They then began tutoring the high school students and helping them get ready to take the ACT. The HESO members kept coming back week after week and the group grew from a few students to a classroom full. They also started inviting the high schoolers to their HESO meetings at UNM and even invited them to travel to engineering conferences. They helped with homework and even offered to help pay for the Hermanitos to take the ACT.
Lilian Casias-Acosta was one of the high school students in the Hermanitos program. She says that the program changed her whole perspective. Her dad was an electrician, but her parents didn’t go to college and didn’t know what the ACT was. She was excited to see girls who spoke Spanish and studied engineering; it didn’t seem like such a far off goal anymore. When she had initially talked to guidance counselors about college, they suggested she try CNM and choose a field of study that was more suitable. According to Lilian, when the HESO kids came, their “expectations were high and we could relate to them. They were from the same area, and we could relate to their lives.”
Benito had similar experience before entering college. He and his friends had older cousins help them register and they all said they’d apply together. “There was a lot of hesitancy, a lot of doubt, and we wondered how were we going to pay for it?” These were some of the reasons he felt it was important to bring others along. The HESO students made sure to talk to the Hermanitos about financial aid, scholarships, loans, and grants. Some of the students were undocumented at the time which posed unique challenges. The HESO students introduced the Hermanitos to other on-campus resources like the College Enrichment Program.
Benito’s interest in engineering started at Highland. He took computer aided drafting classes and decided, “This is something I want to do.” He liked the fact that someone might come up to you and say, “I need this drawn, can you come up with it?” At UNM, he was introduced to different engineering fields. At the time, math was easier than English, but he felt a little discouraged having to start with introductory classes. His friend, Luis Gutierrez, also a HESO member, reached out and said he had been in the same spot. In HESO, everyone was quick to take each other under their wing.
The sense of community within HESO was strong. The students spent a lot of time together; not only in class and doing homework, but traveling to conferences and just hanging out. They got involved and met professionals who helped guide them into their careers. Benito’s mentor, David Burress, kept in touch regularly through email and even came to his graduation. Lilian recalls that people like Benito and Luis had such a positive influence in her life. Even though they don’t see each other all of the time, they still keep in touch through Facebook and occasional HESO reunions.
The foundation built through outreach programs like Hermanitos was equally strong. Benito achieved Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering. While in college, he interned with the USDA in Philadelphia, at General Motors in Shreveport, LA, and at Intel in Albuquerque. He has worked as an engineer at Intel and is currently at Sandia National Labs. Lilian worked at UNM’s Multi-Agent, Robotics, Hybrid, and Embedded Systems (MARHES) Lab. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently working on her Ph.D.
To this day, participants of the Hermanitos program continue to mentor others and embody the “pay it forward” attitude. Benito recalls a friend of his, Jose Bonilla, who was a student at Rio Grande High School. He was interested in engineering. Benito continued to serve as a mentor for Jose often exchanging emails and texts. Benito was happy to attend Jose’s graduation and see him get a graduate degree. He later helped Jose get a job at Intel. Benito doesn’t feel like he has to help others, but he’s always willing because he knows there were others who helped him and had such a positive impact on his life.
Lilian also continues to give back. She says that she became President of the Photonics Society because even though they were doing outreach, she didn’t feel like they were using the money they had in the right ways. Lilian wanted to continue outreach programs in schools that aren’t traditionally exposed to math and science. Many of the efforts were aimed at technology charter schools. Lilian wants to do both – go to technology schools, but also reach out to schools with high minority populations.
Benito echoes that sentiment. “That’s why we picked Highland; they had a hard enough time finding bilingual teachers. Even counselors, they were limited to what (resources) they could provide.” He thought, “I can be their influence.” Lilian agrees that it is “a chain of people, even if it’s one person, you make a difference. One person that wouldn’t have gone to college.” Some people assume Lilian likes school. She says, “It’s not that I like (to keep going to) school, it’s (about) the outcome.”
Possibly the most influence these former HESO members will ever have, are with their own hijitos. Benito has two sons and started a Lego Club at their school. His older son loves baseball, but knows that he can’t play if his homework isn’t done. He’s proud that his sons know that school is their number one priority. Lilian is a new mom. Her husband Miguel, also a former HESO member with a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, fully supports her pursuing her education and they both want to encourage their young son to achieve education through hard work.
It’s clear that mentoring young Hispanics and guiding them toward STEM careers is beneficial for our community. There are so many opportunities for the business community and individual professionals to get involved in formal mentoring programs to keep the chain going. Consider finding your own “hermanito” or “hermanita” through some of these great programs:
– OASIS Intergenerational Tutoring 505-884-4529
– Albuquerque Reads 505-764-3730
– Junior League of Albuquerque http://www.jlabq.org/
– Zia Family Focus Center 505-260-6106
Early mentoring leads to success in STEM careers
In fall 2001, a group of UNM engineering students began a mentoring program that would change the path of many young Hispanic students. The program was called Hermanitos and was part of the outreach effort by the Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization. Benito Martinez was one of the founding members of the program and Lilian Casias-Acosta was one of the first Hermanitos.
The college students helped with homework, ACT prep, financial aid, and encouraged the Hermanitos to study engineering. Lilian recalls being excited to see girls who spoke Spanish and studied engineering. “Their expectations were high, they were from the same area and we could relate to them.”
Benito had similar experience before entering college. He and his friends had older cousins help them register and they all said they’d apply together. “There was a lot of hesitancy, a lot of doubt, and we wondered how were we going to pay for it?” These were some of the reasons he felt it was important to bring others along.
Benito has a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. He has been an engineer at Intel and is currently at Sandia National Labs. Lilian recently completed her Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and is currently working on her Ph.D.
Let’s follow their example and find a “hermanito” or “hermanita” to mentor and guide toward a STEM career.