USU students ‘fired up’ about Science and Engineering Day


Mariah Noble, features editor

After rescheduling twice, USU’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers hosted its annual Science and Engineering Day for children in fifth to eighth grade Saturday.

Jose Campos, the club’s public relations chair and a junior in mechanical engineering, said although the event has occurred annually since 2011, this year was different.

“What’s been happening is that NASA had an agreement with our club, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, so every year they would come and send some scientists, and they would bring meteorites, lunar rocks,” Campos said. “They would also give us about $9,000-$10,000 to put it together, and we’d also fundraise. But the agreement ended this past year.”

Campos said he wasn’t sure why the agreement ended, but because the club didn’t have the usual money and resources provided by NASA, the club members this year were faced with quite a challenge.

“The budget is one part of it, because if we don’t have the money, we don’t have anything,” Campos said.

He said they overcame it by tapping into different resources and trying new things.

The club asked for help from the company ATK, which provided engineers to give presentations to the kids Saturday. He also said other campus clubs made contributions.

“Instead of having the meteorites from NASA, we found the geology club who also had cool stuff, rocks,” Campos said.

Alan Palanco, the club’s president who will graduate with his masters in May, said he feels the club has found a lot of support from the university.

“Each time that you talk about outreach activities at Utah State, all the department heads, they usually take you into account,” Polanco said. “They really believe that that’s one of the best ways to promote the university and the Aggie pride.”

He said some of the other departments they’ve been able to collaborate with are the physics department, several engineering departments and the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Campos said he was pleased with how the SHPE club responded and was able to be creative, working with “less than one-third of the budget” they’ve previously had.

“That’s the cool part about it,” Campos said, “because we had to raise our own money, find different activities on our own and just make it work. It’s been a challenge, but it’s finally happening.”

Oscar Marquina graduated from USU with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2006 and his MBA in 2010. He is now the president over all the chapters of SHPE in Utah and attended Saturday’s event.

He said when he was at USU, there were not enough students to start the club.

“So it’s actually a very amazing experience just to come back here years after we tried to start … and to see how it has grown,” Marquina said, “and how involved we are with the community. … By far, USU is our largest and more-active chapter.”

He said he’s impressed with what the chapter at USU has done with “limited funds and limited resources.” Campos said, to date, there are 45 active members in the club here.

“The number one benefit that (USU students) will get out of being involved in something like SHPE is career opportunities,” Marquina said. “By being involved, they start developing leadership skills.”

He said the ability to solve problems, the broad perspective they obtain and the relationships these students develop will set them apart in the job market. He said getting involved is extremely important for college students.

Campos said another challenging aspect about the event was logistics.

73 students, ages 10 to 14, representing at least 10 different schools attended six different workshops at this year’s event, Polanco said. Campos said that is less than half of the number of kids who have come in the past, which he said might have been due to scheduling it during Easter weekend.

Even with the lower numbers, Campos said it was worth it.

“At the beginning when we’re getting the kids to see how cool engineering is and they’re really excited, I think that’s my favorite part,” Campos said, “when they realize it’s something that they can do and that they can change the world and that it’s fun.”

Polanco said these types of activities help the kids recognize their level of interest in engineering.

“I think this is the stage when you start defining how you’re going to be in the future,” Polanco said. “All the kids when they’re little, their dream is like, ‘OK, I want to be an astronaut,’ or, ‘I want to be an engineer,’ and in my case, I didn’t get an opportunity to get involved with an engineer when I was 8, 10 years old.”

He said if he would have been involved with activities like this when he was young, he probably would have been able to accomplish more at a younger age.

“I think it helps them as well to set a goal for their life to come to college,” he said. “Some people, they believe that because they cannot afford the expenses of going to college or because they’re not that smart, they don’t know what they’re going to get into, they don’t want to go to college.”

He said many of the members of SHPE come from families who couldn’t normally afford college but are on scholarships. He said that “example” gives hope to kids who come from similar backgrounds.

“That’s the best thing we can do for them,” Polanco said. “Give them the example of our own lives.”

He said he likes getting involved with the kids and feeling their energy.

Marquina said activities like this “start the initial spark of imagination” and help children get a better idea of what they want to accomplish in life.

In addition to the workshops for kids, Polanco said the club does workshops for parents on how to get funding and save money for their children to be able to go to college.

“The children are the dreamers. They set a goal in their life, they have a dream, but (sometimes) the parents are the ones who kill those dreams, especially in the minorities,” he said. “The parents say, ‘How come you think we’re going to have enough money to bring you to college?’ or, ‘That’s not for us.'”

He said when the USU students share their stories, reluctant parents change from “dream-killers” to supportive.

Jill Schadegg is a mother from Cache Valley who homeschools her children. She attended the event with two of them, Titus, 10, and Sydney, 12.

She said this is Sydney’s second year and Titus’ first.

“It’s just very well-run, well organized and the kids had a really good time,” Schadegg said.

She said her children were excited and chose to go to Science and Engineering Day over other options of Easter egg hunts and sporting events. Sydney said she remembered hearing a speaker and going to classes she enjoyed last year that made her want to come back.

“I liked the contest and how you got to build your own and you didn’t really have instructions,” Titus said. “You just got to try what you wanted to do.”

Schadegg said she also appreciated the enthusiasm of the people putting on the event.