Design challenge brings budding engineers to Johns Hopkins for a day

JHU hosts event as part of national conference of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

A young woman and young man work with an electrical circuit board

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

One of the noises filling the Glass Pavilion at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus on Thursday afternoon—along with the chatter of brainstorming—was a jarring, incessant buzzing.

3 young men work together at a laptop computer

Image caption: High school students participate in the junior design challenge at Johns Hopkins University, part of the national conference for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

One table of high-schoolers had figured out how to make their sensors, connected to Intel microprocessor boards, produce sound at regular intervals. Others gathered for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers junior design challenge were experimenting with using the sensors for light, vibration, temperature, and pressure.

"They're learning the principles of programming," said JHU senior Nicole Ortega, a biomedical engineering major who heads the Johns Hopkins University chapter of SHPE.

Ortega's group, about 20 members strong, is one of more than 250 chapters across the country attached to the national organization for Hispanic engineers. The chapter took over hosting duties for the Thursday's junior design challenge, along with JHU's Whiting School of Engineering. Ortega and fellow Hopkins SHPE members Jorge Rivera and Patrick Pena helped coordinate logistics with Intel, which sponsored the challenge sponsor and provided the microprocessor boards.

About 100 high-schoolers and middle-schoolers spent their entire day on the Homewood campus, touring the grounds, hearing from engineering professionals—including Whiting School Dean Ed Schlesinger—and working in groups for the design challenge. At one point, Hopkins civil engineering Professor Judith Mitrani-Reiser, the adviser for the university's SHPE chapter, toured the tables and offered tips to students.

"SHPE's purpose is to promote the students to go to college," said Matthew Alonso, a SHPE member from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign.

Today, the students were slated to continue their activities as part of a larger group at the University of Maryland College Park. It's all part of SHPE's Pre-College Symposium (pdf), which brings together students from across the U.S. to take part in the national society's annual conference.

The SPHE National Conference—the largest technical and career conference for Hispanics in the nation—has drawn 5,000-some engineering experts and students to Baltimore this week for workshops, lectures, and networking. Activities include the female-focused "Empowering Latinas Luncheon" and a career fair featuring more than 200 companies.

Schlesinger will chair a Dean's Summit today as part of the conference, bringing together more than 30 deans and other leaders from U.S. engineering schools. He will deliver opening remarks and moderate a forum on ways to increase diversity in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers began in California in 1974, when a group of engineers working for the city of Los Angeles decided there was need for a national organization to nurture the needs of the Hispanic engineering community.