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“Great Minds in STEM” is the new name for HENAAC

At the age of twenty-one the organization has a new identity, but its mission hasn’t changed

“The need is at the local level. STEM is as thrilling as sports.” – Ray Mellado

HENAAC founder and CEO Ray Mellado: “A ‘brand’ that can encompass our dual role.”HENAAC, formerly the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference, has a new name: “Great Minds in STEM.” STEM, of course, stands for “science, technology, engineering and math,” the focus of the organization since its founding in 1989. The change was announced at this year’s awards ceremony in Long Beach, CA.

The evolution from HENAAC to Great Minds has been four years in the planning, says HENAAC CEO Ray Mellado, who has headed the organization from the start. “We needed to create a brand, an umbrella that can encompass our dual role as an educational and
a recognition/recruitment organization,” he says.

Starting with recognition
Pedro Suarez, left, president of Dow Latin America, is 2009 Engineer of the Year.During HENAAC’s first decade it was a commercial enterprise, Mellado explains. The focus was on recognition and recruitment. “We brought forward role models from the Hispanic community who were world-class Latino and Latina engineers and scientists,” including the Hispanic Engineer of the Year.

In the second decade, “We reached out to ABET-accredited schools of engineering and looked at Hispanics enrolled in curricula that were necessary to increase the STEM workforce.” The investigation revealed a severe underrepresentation, “so in the late 1990s we became a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and began the second division of the company: educational programs.”

Pre-college focus: STEM-Up
Captain Ken Barrett of the U.S. Navy, left, in his dress uniform for the Awards Gala.Two pre-college programs are currently under way. The newest initiative is STEM-Up. “The DOD, through the Army Corps of Engineers, funded a five-year, $7.5 million performance contract with us to get the program started,” Mellado reports.

The pilot STEM-Up program was launched in September 2009 in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, CA. It’s a community approach; the pilot involves thirteen elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools, plus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cal State University-LA and “all the Los Angeles-area defense contractors,” Mellado says.

The model involves working engineers, college engineering students and K-12 students, along with parents, teachers and other community members, in a wide range of mentoring, homework help and awareness programs. STEM-Up, Mellado notes, has been endorsed by the LA Unified School District and accepted by its unions.

Chicago, IL, and a Texas city yet to be named, will be the next sites. “We want to have several sites going simultaneously in the next few years,” Mellado says.

Viva Technology!
College ROTC cadets help organize the Viva Technology wind turbine design and construction project that teamed school kids with engineering students.Viva Technology, launched in 2001, is a classroom-based program aimed at inner-city and rural K-12 students, teachers and parents. The program is delivered to schools as a package they largely administer for themselves. It’s currently
in about forty schools in thirteen states.

With support from the Department of Defense (DOD), Viva Technology students are invited to participate in targeted programs at the annual conference.

College Bowl interaction
2009 marked the tenth anniversary of the HENAAC College Bowl, a day-long event that teams students with recruiters and professional engineers in a series of contests. The idea is to give students, recruiters and tech pros a chance to interact outside the traditional interview.

This year there were more than two dozen teams with nearly as many sponsors. Teams are formed amid enthusiastic demonstrations. The day-long competition appears chaotic to the onlooker, but participants say the chance to network with mature pros is not only worthwhile but has been known to lead to job offers.

Talking STEM: early outreach is key
Exec panel: USAF’s Dr Werner Dahm, left; Ray Mellado; NREL director Dan Arvizu.Senior execs of HENAAC supporting companies spend quality time conferring at the conferences. This year participants were asked to discuss national STEM education. How can the efforts to increase participation of underrepresented groups be integrated for a more efficient national result? What successful programs can be expanded nationally? Can corporations, universities and government agencies do more to create and advance the national STEM agenda President Obama has put forward?

The panel was moderated by Dr Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab. “We’re here to gather the wisdom of the anthill,” he noted with a twinkle. Other panelists were HENAAC founder and CEO Ray Mellado; Dr Werner Dahm, chief scientist of the US Air Force,; Garrett Ashley, a vice chancellor in the California State University System; Pedro Suarez, president of Dow Chemical Company’s Latin America unit and 2009 Hispanic Engineer of the Year; and Dr Wanda Ward, assistant director for education and human resources at the National Science Foundation.

“STEM is as thrilling as sports.”
Native American Rick Stephens, a Boeing VP, left, at the exec roundtable.An impressive group of invited top execs joined the discussion, including Rick Stephens, VP of human resources and ops at the Boeing Company; Dr James Rosser, president of Cal State University-LA; Dr Rafael Bras, dean of the Henri Samueli School
of Engineering of UC-Irvine and Rear Admiral Mike Giorgione of NAVFAC Pacific.

As Ray Mellado summed up the session, “Grand challenges are important, but the need is at the local level.” Twenty-five percent
of U.S. kids under five are Latino, he pointed out, and they need
to understand that “STEM is as thrilling as sports.”

Awards and honors
Famia Magana of the DLA networks with Rear Admiral Ron Hewitt of the Coast Guard.Cadet and ROTC awardees, HENAAC Scholar recipients and Luminary award winners were honored at luncheons on Thursday and Friday, but the Friday evening awards event is the climax of each conference. This is where the Hispanic Engineer of Year is recognized, along with other outstanding contributors from industry, national labs, the military and government agencies.

The 2009 Engineer of the Year is Pedro Suarez, president of Dow Latin America, a unit of the Dow Chemical Company. Suarez is considered one of Dow’s top twenty-five executive leaders. He’s based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where he began his career with Dow. He credits his achievements to the opportunities he found at Dow. “I believe that diversity is the mirror of society,” he says. “Having diversity in your company will bring more and better-rounded ideas, and make the organization more successful.” For a complete list of award winners see www.greatmindsinstem.org.

New name, same mission
Although the name and logo of the organization are different, little else has changed, Mellado stresses. The HENAAC conference will retain its traditional name and continue its awards and recognitions, scholarship program, travel grants, college bowl and career fair. Great Minds in STEM will continue to work to keep America technologically strong by promoting science, technology, engineering and math careers, especially in underrepresented communities.

The Great Minds in STEM 2010 HENAAC conference is October 7-9 at Disney’s Coronado Resort in Orlando, FL.

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