Society features

The coffee offers a taste of the community to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Fermilab

Drinking coffee is a central part of Hispanic culture. In Central and Latin America, the word for coffee varies depending on the country where the drink is consumed. In Colombia, coffee is known as tinto; in Costa Rica, it is chorreado coffee; in Mexico, olla coffee is drunk; in Peru, it is pasado coffee; and in Brazil it is known as cafezinho. Perhaps the biggest part of drinking coffee is the sense of pride and community it brings to those who take it together. At the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, enjoying coffee as a community experience is a much loved and missed activity by members of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at the lab.

SHPE’s Midwestern Regional Conference with over 100 attendees was held at Fermilab in 2019. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The Fermilab SHPE Professional Chapter was formed in 2017 with the help of Sandra Charles, Fermilab’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, to create a group at the lab that would recognize Hispanic employees and provide them with a sense of community. “When Aria Soha asked me for help establishing a SHPE chapter here at Fermilab, I was excited to complement the Hispanic Latino Forum lab resource group with a professional chapter from a national organization to support our Hispanic engineers. . It was also fantastic to see the founding members’ passion for connecting with local university chapters and neighboring Hispanic communities, ”said Charles.

fSHPE founders

Coming from New York to Fermilab, Aria Soha is a Level Two Assistant Director for the PIP-II Particle Accelerator Project. She attended high school for the performing arts and majored in physics at Carnegie Mellon University. Her Hispanic culture is an important part of who she is, and when Soha arrived at the lab 19 years ago, she wanted to connect with like-minded people and bring STEM careers to the Hispanic community. “I wanted the younger kids to know that as a Latino there are many careers. You can be a physicist, engineer, architect or whatever you want to be, ”Soha said.

After witnessing the success of the Society of Women Engineers chapter at Fermilab as a member, Soha studied the statutes and mechanisms for launching a regional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. She garnered the interest and participation of 10 Hispanic engineers and went to the EDI office to enlist the help of Sandra Charles, who facilitated meetings with the national organization SHPE and met with the regional president in Chicago.

Jeny Teheran, IT security analyst for the Fermilab cybersecurity team, was also involved in the development of fSHPE. When she was 10 years old, Tehran wanted to become an astronomer but growing up in Colombia, she did not have the possibility to study physics to become a physicist, only a physics teacher. A teacher gave him the idea to study computer science. Due to her love of science, she obtained a degree in Computer Systems Engineering. After graduating from her masters, her dean asked her about her plans, describing an internship offered by Fermilab where she would work on neutrino experiments to write better code and use systems more efficiently. The original plan was to move to the United States for a year and then pursue his doctorate. After 10 months, however, a position opened on the security team, and she has been working with scientists ever since to conduct the experiments safely.

Including Soha and Tehran, a core of half a dozen Fermilab associates was the founding force of fSHPE. By engaging with other professional and student sections of SHPE, fSHPE has set out to increase awareness of the need for diverse representation within our workforce and to contribute to outreach efforts in the Chicagoland region. The goals of the group are to increase the representation of Hispanics in the lab and to offer unique STEM events to attract, develop and retain diverse national and global talent. These events have included networking and professional growth opportunities for its members.

An fSHPE awareness event at the Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago, November 2018. Photo: Jeny Teheren

“FSHPE gives its members this sense of community, a safe place to spend time with people like you with the same culture and it is important to celebrate the traditions of our home countries,” said Soha. “Before the pandemic, we had planned a coffee meeting every three months in the cafeteria to taste each time a coffee from a different Latin country. It’s good socialization to talk about the same cultural issues and the same traditions that give us that sense of community. We all need this.

Soha and Tehran said they look forward to meeting in person again for coffee with the fSHPE group.

Do a lot in a short time

Since 2017, fSHPE has accomplished a lot and organized many successful awareness events. As vice president of outreach, Tehran focused on connecting Fermilab with LatinX students at local universities by inviting them to the lab to build cars, radios, and coding projects. She described the events as “amazing to see the light bulbs light up in their heads and the students to feel rewarded for their projects.”

In 2019, as president, Tehran elevated the group’s events by hosting regional conferences at Fermilab, discussing leadership and professional development for the group. In 2020, fSHPE was supposed to host the regional conference, but the event was canceled due to COVID and rescheduled for 2021. Last March, the SHPE regional conference at Fermilab virtually brought together over 600 professionals and students, connecting them to the laboratory with a 360-degree tour of the MicroBooNE experience. The event also included a virtual platform that allowed students to talk to recruiters and visit the booths of sponsors, such as Accenture, Boeing, US Department of Energy, Exelon, Hewlett Packard, Department of Transportation Illinois and Texas Instruments, as well as many universities. .

Planning for the future

Once the in-person restrictions are lifted, the fSHPE hopes to resume their regular coffee meetings. The group is also looking to organize more outreach events, as it is difficult to connect and have a strong impact with students virtually. “A lot of what the group represents is a sense of community and connection, and when you can’t meet in person, you realize how much you miss the presence of other people who are like you. It centers you and is very refreshing, ”Soha said.

Going forward, fSHPE hopes to continue fostering a welcoming environment, ensuring that new LatinX lab employees know they have a community around them.

Fermilab is supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit