Welcome Reception on September 26 where students enjoyed Texas style BBQ and kicked off the MAES Symposium. (Photo/Estefania Vazquez)

Welcome Reception on September 26 where students enjoyed Texas style BBQ and kicked off the MAES Symposium. (Photo/Estefania Vazquez)

Latinos in science and engineering unite to mentor, steer students into STEM

Maria Pizarro, executive vice president research and development of TriReme Medical — an organization which makes minimally invasive medical devices to treat diseases vascular diseases, says she might have never risen through the ranks in her career if it wasn’t for MAES: Latinos in Science and Engineering — a national non-profit which promotes excellence in education and leadership among Latino engineers and scientists.

The El Paso native says MAES encouraged her to get her first job in engineering when there were very few females in the field.

“It helped me in my early stages in my career, and later on, as I became involved in the professional level…It helped develop my leadership skills,” says Pizarro.

Pizarro is a past national director for the organization, and one of the Latinos taking part in MAES’ 39th annual symposium, being held in Houston between September 25 and 28.  Its aim is to promote the development of Latino STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) leaders in academic, executive, and technical fields across the country.

(Photo/Maria Pizarro)

(Photo/Maria Pizarro)

One Latino teacher who has made a difference steering his students toward STEM fields is John P. Santos, an instructor of game media design, multimedia and programming at Augustus Hawkins High School in Los Angeles. This is one of the poorest high schools in the city with one of the highest dropout rates, yet Santos’ students are now being admitted to Stanford and MIT. The Latino teacher is receiving the “Outstanding MAEStro Award.”

MAES was founded in 1974 by Latinos in Los Angeles by engineers who worked in aerospace who wanted to change the stereotype and show that we do have a representation in those areas, says Pizarro.

“I have been a member since I was an undergraduate engineering student at Texas A&M University in 1981,” she says.

Pizarro is now focusing on her local chapter in northern California. She wants to make sure students study science and tech and provides mentorship to students in grades K through 12, and then through graduate and post graduate school.

“We are aware of the dropout rate and that we are the fastest growing group,” says Pizarro about working with local schools. “Education as a whole is very important to us and for students to continue to focus on areas of science and engineering — especially in a world that is changing. We have to continue to have that know-how.”

It is also important for students to see role models of people who look like them, adds Pizarro.

Maria Pizarro (Courtesy Maria Pizarro)

Maria Pizarro (Courtesy Maria Pizarro)

“Most come from parents who are immigrants, and the only role models they have are people on TV. But in day-to-day life they don’t see people like them who make it,”  she says. “We also work with the parents and volunteer with community centers where there are different activities on the weekends and after school.”

RELATED: Latina Leaders: Alejandra Ceja, on a mission to increase Latino education

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