Nearly everyone who gathered March 5 at Stanford Graduate School of Education for a discussion on getting Latinos into STEM careers had a smartphone.
Before the opening presentation, the crowd of more than 200 texted, snapped photos, browsed social media, listened to music and played games.
But when the lights dimmed and the Spanish-language event officially got under way, they were given a challenge that seemed to speak directly to the relationship they had with the little device in their hands.
"Latinos have to be part of the creation of this new world, not just consumers in it," said Alicia Lebrija Hirschfeld, executive president of the Televisa Foundation.
Lebrija Hirschfeld was the first of more than a dozen speakers at "Latin@s en STEM, Vias para la inclusion," [Latinos in STEM, Pathways for Inclusion] a half-day program that addressed the obstacles and opportunities for getting more Latinos interested in careers or studies in science, technology, engineering and math.
The program was co-sponsored by Univision, Televisa Foundation and the Stanford GSE, and took place at Cubberley Auditorium.
Kenji Hakuta, a professor emeritus at Stanford GSE who leads the Understanding Language initiative, said one goal of the event was to provide connections and a starting point for Latinos interested in STEM fields.
Attendees were encouraged to introduce themselves to panelists and presenters, most of whom were graduates of Stanford and now had successful careers in chemical engineering, computer science, electronics or another STEM field.
Kira Vilanova, one of the hosts of the morning program Al Despertar at Univision 14, spoke about the significantly higher salaries and better jobs that would open up to Latinos should they pursue these new economy fields.
"What family wouldn't want to see their child part of this future?" she asked.
Stanford Education Professor Guadalupe Valdes, whose research focuses on English learners, encouraged parents in the audience to embrace their Spanish speaking ability and to encourage bilingualism from their children.
"It's very important to be bilingual," she said. "It's a constant fight to tell people it's old-fashioned to only speak English."
Professor Guillermo Solano-Flores added, "I'm proud of my accent."
Panel discussions focused on new opportunities in STEM, resources available to minority students including financial aid, and what kind of education is needed to go into STEM careers.
Anecdotes from the panelists brought personal stories and experiences center stage. Most panelists could describe feeling like outsiders when they first embarked in their fields. They stressed the need to find support — from professors and mentors to peers and family.
They talked about cultural divides: not being able to attend a work party because of family responsibilities, for example, or even needing to explain their "different" lunch.
"It's lonely not finding someone who knows your culture," said Victoria Robles, a Stanford alumna and reliability engineer at Tesla Motors.
But they all talked about working hard, finding opportunities, creating new paths, and learning to embrace being a trailblazer.
"I started saying, if somebody's going to do it, why not me?" said Liliana de la Paz, who will be the first Latina to graduate with a chemical engineering doctorate at Stanford. "We have to be the example."
Portions of the event are to be broadcast on Al Despertar.
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