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Fridley High School (FHS) students took full advantage of the opportunity to learn more about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers at the Minnesota State University - Mankato (MSU) Latino Engineering Academic Day. Over 20 FHS students attended the day-long conference on November 2, 2018. The main mission of Latino Engineering Academic Day is to encourage and motivate Latino high school students to pursue their STEM interests in higher education and careers.
The conference connected Fridley students with Latino professionals in various engineering fields, as well as current MSU engineering students and faculty. Additionally, students had the opportunity to learn more about the steps to take to prepare for college through academic sessions. Students toured the MSU campus and learned about the various engineering programs that the institution offers. The conference also provided students with multiple hands-on demonstrations and interactive activities. Fridley students took part in a building competition. They broke into teams and constructed newspaper and tape towers to see whose could reach the maximum height without toppling.
Freddie Rocha Cabezas, a freshman, is already considering both college and training programs for after graduation. “I wanted to experience a little bit of the engineering program to see if that’s something I want to do,” he said.
Perhaps the most meaningful moment for students, however, took place in the ballroom of the Student Union, where they heard from guest speakers who have had similar experiences as theirs.
Jonathan Zavala-Vasquez, a senior, is considering MSU’s computer engineering program. He pointed out that one of the speakers, Gisell Gonzalez, inspired him with the phrase ‘ponte las pilas,’ which means ‘work for it.’
“She came here from Mexico when she was 12,” Zavala-Vasquez recounted. “It was hard for her because she didn’t know any English. Her parents told her ‘ponte las pilas.’ She kept telling us how her parents said ‘we’re fighters.’”
Ingrid Juarez Guzman, a junior, is looking into MSU’s law enforcement program. She agreed with the inspiration gained from the speakers. “People think because we’re Latinos we can’t speak English as well,” she said. “She was trying to say even though people think like that about us, we’re united; together we keep each other up and going.”
Senior Michelle Gonzalez Medina remarked how hard it is to be discouraged by friends and family who tell them they can’t attain their goals. Her older sister moved to the United States from Mexico as a young child. “She wanted to become a nurse, but it was really hard for her,” said Gonzalez Medina. “People told her ‘You can’t do that. You’re Hispanic. You have to do something else, because that’s only for Americans.’
“My mom kept pushing and pushing her, and now she’s working on it. She’s building a career and she’s happy,” said Medina.
The group agreed that at FHS, they are always supported in achieving their goals. They also all receive encouragement from parents and older siblings.
Emily Latzka, FHS Spanish teacher and advisor of the Spanish Club, is a strong advocate for her students and led them on the trip. She, too, was inspired by what she heard from speaker Gisell Gonzalez.
“She wore her heart on her sleeve; so open and honest about her path and feelings,” said Latzka. “She talked about the boundaries of college, her personal story and resources she found along the way to help her succeed.
Latzka also encouraged the students who went on the trip to be proactive in their preparation and plan early to make college dreams a reality. “There are scholarships out there, so it’s important for the students to research them now, no matter how young they are,” she said. “And continue to do your best in school. It sets you up for a better life.”
The field trip to MSU for Latino Engineering Day was sponsored by Minnesota State University-Mankato and the Northwest Suburban Integration School District (NWSISD), of which Fridley Public Schools is a member school district.