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Leading with Purpose

Laura Ferrer Creates a Sense of Family in UT’s Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers Chapter.

Head and shoulders photograph of Laura Ferrer.

The Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers-UTK chapter (SHPE-UTK) is focused on supporting and increasing the number of Hispanic and Latino engineers in the community.

CEE senior Laura Ferrer is now president of the group, a role she took because she wanted to serve because of the support she received from group.

I stepped up as a leader because I am passionate about SHPE’s cause, and also because I enjoy working and helping others. As a Hispanic engineer, I am proud of my background and I want to be able to empower other Hispanic students.”

—Laura Ferrer

Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, she moved to the US when was seven, but she calls Martin, Tennessee, home.

“I chose UT because of the opportunities and the culture,” she said. “I learned about engineering in middle school during an introductory engineering program, and I chose to study civil engineering because I recognized my love for math and science, as well as my love for designing and constructing projects assigned to me in class. I was sure I wanted to be a civil engineer after coming to UT.”

In high school, Ferrer was fortunate to have support from teachers who encouraged her to become a civil engineer, a calculus teacher who developed her love for math and an English teacher who encouraged her to push her projects further.

SHPE’s UT chapter has 20–40 students at any given time, while the international society counts more than 10,000 members in the US alone.

While the group’s vision is a world where Hispanics are highly valued and influential as the leading innovators, scientists, mathematicians and engineers, non-Hispanic students are also welcome to join.

Before assuming her leadership role, Ferrer received support from SHPE that she said helped her complete a co-op, two research programs, and a study abroad program.

She’s been on the board since her freshmen year, served as the vice regional student representative for the Tennessee and Alabama chapters last year, and continues to “lean on SHPE to succeed.”

As the student chapter president, Ferrer leads the chapter and the board to manage its programs to better impact its students. She also communicates with other societies during collaboration.

“Personally, I like to make connections with my board and members, advising students through hurdles and helping them develop as people and students,” she said. “I might not always have all the answers, but I will at least point them to the direction of someone who does.”

Ferrer is committed to SHPE’s mission to change lives by empowering the Hispanic community to reach its fullest potential and to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support, and development.

Its activities are geared towards the following pillars: academics, professionalism, community outreach, and social events.

General body meetings this semester included speakers from Proctor and Gamble, Norfolk Southern, and International Paper. The group also gets together for socials and hosts Engineers Day events.

In November, Ferrer and other board members traveled to the SHPE National Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, to learn about research, internship, co-op, and full-time positions while attending informative breakout sessions catered specifically to them.

Ferrer was happy that seven of the nine UT students who attended got interviews with companies for either full-time, internship, or co-op positions, and some students started receiving formal offers, with more expected.

Being president allows Ferrer to give back to the chapter that has helped her succeed.

“We support and help each other through our years of school and stay in contact after we graduate,” she added. “In fact, during our first general body meeting, we Skype called two of our alumni.”

At the end of the day, she feels like the group is family, or “familia” as she calls it.

Élan Young: