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Maria Velazquez, HACE Sr. Coordinator of Student Leadership Programs, sat down with us to share the work she is doing with the youth to build the pipeline of STEM Latino talent.

Describe HACE and the event concept/purpose behind:

My name is Maria Velazquez, I am a first-generation college student, born & raised in the Humboldt Park community in Chicago.  I  joined the HACE team 2 years ago, I am currently the Senior Program Coordinator leading Student Leadership Initiatives.  (HACE) is a national nonprofit dedicated to the employment, development, and advancement of current and aspiring Latino professionals. Since 1982. One of our youth initiatives is our annual El Futuro STEM conference, exposing high school Juniors and Seniors coming from low income and Latinx communities to various career options in STEM to help them make informed decisions when choosing their majors of study. The half-day conference offers interactive workshops and a career expo with sponsoring companies for up to 250 students in each city. We are very proud to have a partnership with Google in Chicago, Microsoft in New York City and AT&T in Houston.

Statistically speaking why is it vital that students, especially Latino students, experience El Futuro STEM Career Conference?

Latinos currently make up 16% of the American workforce but only 6% in STEM fields. It’s important to expose students early in their lives to opportunities in STEM and most importantly have them hear from Latinos in the field, sharing their experiences and struggles. Being able to see themselves in these professional roles is important and needed. The students we work with come from underserved populations and lack the support system and mentorship to walk them through the steps to go to college and pursue careers they may dream of. Their lenses are shut because of the limited resources available. El Futuro STEM Career Conference sheds light on the opportunities available to Latinos in tech. Students learn in a real working environment from successful leaders of diverse backgrounds.

What should partnering companies expect from investing in an El Futuro STEM Career Conference

The conference is set up in three parts – keynote motivational speakers, hands-on workshops, and a mini career fair, with a school assignment to explore careers from all sponsoring organizations.

Partnering companies should expect a full day of hands-on STEM-related activities, interacting with our students one on one, and having meaningful conversations about student career choices. Participating companies are all committed to the long term development of the Latino pipeline in STEM.  They see it as a community engagement imperative, not only to help their industry thrive but give back to a population that needs support to reach their full potential.

How does El Futuro STEM Career Conference differ from other college readiness conferences?

Our conference differs from other college readiness conferences in that we cater to high school students and we make our conference interactive. We feel this demographic needs additional attention as they are on the cusp of making decisions about their future career and education. We give our students the opportunity to network with Latinx professionals in STEM and also their own peers, to broaden their options in potential careers.  Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and AT&T, who support our conferences are committed to driving more diversity and opening their doors to our students ultimately creating more opportunities for everyone involved.

Students walk away being inspired and confident in the pursuit of professional careers, irrespective of their upbringings or the societal biases against them.

Can you share a particularly vivid transformation you noticed in a student after they attended El Futuro STEM Career Conference?

We’ve hosted conferences for the past two years and we’ve collected feedback from students saying that they are empowered by hearing from passionate STEM professionals; their horizons expand and gave them a better understanding of what careers in STEM actually look like.

88% of the students are more likely to pursue STEM as a field of study in college,  because of it.

Why is STEM a good career option for Latinos?

In the US, there is an overwhelming number of STEM-related jobs that are not being filled and the demand for talent keeps growing. As the Latinx population continues to grow in the United States it makes sense that our students fill those positions as they are highly lucrative. The average advertised salary for entry-level STEM jobs requiring a BA or higher is $66,123 compared to $52,299 for non-STEM jobs.

One of the biggest obstacles in getting our students into those roles isn’t a lack of interest!

Many of our students are interested or enrolled in STEM majors but on average only 9 % complete their intended degrees, according to Excelencia en Educacion. Latinos lack the mentorship and guidance to complete their college degrees. As first-generation college students, they don’t have the support system in place to help them navigate the tricky college space.

This is one of the main reasons HACE has committed to informational career programs, mentorship, and support throughout a students college experience and into the workforce. Our conferences are the first step to meet and engage with Latinx STEM students so that they may one day become working professionals in the STEM field.

As a college readiness facilitator to high school and university leadership programs, what are the key skills students need to learn to be successful professionals?

Networking is a key component for success because it teaches students to have serious conversations about their interests, talents, experiences, and career preferences in a professional setting. There aren’t many opportunities to have similar conversations in their average day-to-day. Networking also teaches students how to identify allies and ask for support when needed. Through networking, students are able to self select their social and professional circles creating a powerful community.

We want students to feel empowered and set a vision for themselves as a successful professional at El Futuro STEM Career Conference. Don’t underestimate the power of community and join HACE in this movement.

For more information about El Futuro, please click here.