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Students and event participants pose for a photo in the Old Engineering Building courtyard.

To celebrate a successful 2023 La Familia event, SHPE holds a free raffle in the Old Engineering courtyard, giving away iPads, laptops and gift cards to winning event participants.

Hispanic Engineers Club Closes Generational Tech Gap

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Hispanic Engineers Club Closes Generational Tech Gap

Dec. 21, 2023
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Members of the UA chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers give back to their community at an annual workshop that teaches app navigation, cyber smarts and job search skills.

Students like Irbis Martinez often step into the role of tech support as their family members and elders adapt to new cellphones and internet apps or adopt life-critical, cloud-based technology, such as medical video conferencing that became the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even now, my grandparents use Zoom for their doctors’ appointments 50% of the time,” said Martinez, an environmental engineering senior and president of the UA’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, or SHPE.

But Martinez can’t always answer the calls. That’s where La Familia, now in its 22nd year, comes in. SHPE organizes La Familia, a free annual event, to teach community members, especially seniors, how to use technology confidently and independently.

“Our grandparents and parents raised us; it’s high time for us to teach them a few things,” said Martinez.

Two workshops, provided in English and Spanish, in November 2023 were geared to what family and community members in Tucson, wanted most: navigating apps and finding jobs.

“This exceptional city, the inviting people, the delicious tacos, the beautiful sunsets over the mountain range raised me into the person I am today,” said Maximo Ybarro, mechanical engineering senior and vice president of La Familia. “I felt this could be my way of giving back to my community, my family.”

Navigating Popular Apps

From operating Zoom for telehealth calls to setting up WhatsApp on smartphones, SHPE students running La Familia’s Navigating Apps workshop walked attendees through every step of the internet applications they most wanted to use.

“By tailoring the presentation to what participants want to do, they will be more engaged,” said SHPE member and software engineering junior Jennifer Galvan, explaining that the interactive presentation changes every year depending on the interests of participants. 

Sidestepping Internet Scams

Ybarro arranged a partnership with Bank of America to add a cybersecurity component to the Navigating Apps presentation as well as a separate Professional Development workshop.

“If anybody is going to have the best quality presentation, especially when it comes to financial scams, it is going to be them [Bank of America],” said Ybarro.

The cybersecurity training was essential because of the rise in online scams targeting seniors, he stressed.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2022 Elder Fraud Report, total losses reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center by elderly victims increased 84% from 2021. Technology and customer service schemes are the most common scams targeting seniors.

“But honestly, it can happen to anyone,” said Ybarro.

Building a Career

Professional Development workshop participants practiced answering interview questions, learned how to format resumes and got tips for applying for jobs.  

“One of the big changes this year was a Professional Development workshop that’s more focused on resume building and different websites you can use to explore jobs or identify avenues to find work,” said Ybarro.

SHPE alumni also are key to the success of La Familia.

“SHPE motivates more students to enroll, finish, and get their degrees,” said Jesus Aceviedo, senior manager at IBM and 2003 president of SHPE. Aceviedo presented La Familia’s opening keynote in English and Spanish.

First-generation college students, in particular, have a 92.2% higher dropout rate than students who aren’t first generation, according to SHPE’s 2023 U.S. Latinos in Engineering Tech Report.

“The graduation rate is 87% if you join SHPE versus students not in SHPE, which is a 50% graduation rate,” said Aceviedo, encouraging students from all backgrounds to find a supportive familia within the College of Engineering.