jessica's group jessica leon is second from left in the black dress
September 25, 2018

UC Riverside students take first and second place at prestigious conference

Leadership-in-action competition yields prizewinning strategies for increasing Hispanic leadership in engineering

Author: Holly Ober
September 25, 2018

Two UC Riverside students took first and second place in a leadership-in-action competition during the National Institute for Leadership Advancement, or NILA, conference held last month by the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, or SHPE. Jessica Leon, a bioengineering major, took first place in the competition and Evelyn Hernandez, an environmental science major, took second.

The NILA conference hosts the top student leaders from more than 200 SHPE student chapters at universities throughout the country. SHPE created NILA to develop relevant and responsible community leaders across the nation to ensure Hispanics are not only represented but are influential drivers in the future of STEM both in the community and at a national level. All attendees at the conference participate in a leadership-in-action competition.

The competition consisted of five different case-study prompts with five teams working on each prompt. 

Jessica Leon

Leon’s team was asked to empower more Latinas in STEM. They came up with "SHPEtina Familia Day," an event to educate the community about the importance of encouraging Latinas to pursue STEM.  

“I'm excited to share that my team ended up winning first place and took from this competition more than just an award,” Leon said. “This conference is incredibly demanding, rigorous, and sleep depriving as it has a very tight agenda requiring our attention and participation. Despite this, it provides a great sense of fulfillment in that it leaves each of us with a unique urge to go to our respective schools and make a difference.”

Hernandez’ team created a recruitment system called the At Large Leadership Initiative, which is designed to  help students create a SHPE chapter at their university. 

Evelyn Hernandez

“After presenting our proposal and video, our team was able to win first place in our category and second place overall,” Hernandez said. “Throughout this process, one thing I learned is that sometimes it’s necessary to step up, propose structure, and pitch new ideas, while at other times, it’s best to listen and survey other team members for their input. I’m excited to take what I have learned back to UCR.”

Albert Fernandez, president of SHPE at UCR, said the skills and accomplishments Leon and Hernandez bring back to UCR will strengthen the organization.

“The NILA conference is largely considered to be a life-changing experience, with the best SHPE executives and influencers instilling the essence of leadership within our student leaders,” he said.

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