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Latino Students Drawn to Cal Poly Engineering Programs

Latino Students Drawn to Cal Poly Engineering Programs.

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At Cal Poly Pomona, Latino students make up about 37.5 percent of the campus’ first-time, full-time freshmen class and more than 34 percent of full-time undergraduates.

While those figures are reflective of the changing demographics statewide, another enrollment trend is notable, the number of Latino students in Cal Poly’s engineering programs.

Of the 4,816 engineering students, 1,479, or 30.7 percent, are Latino, according to university figures.  Latinos make up 32.7 percent of aerospace engineering students, 33.6 percent in civil engineering, and 44.2 percent in construction engineering technology.

Cal Poly Pomona has been designated a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education.  In October, Hispanic Business magazine ranked the College of Engineering eighth in the nation, and first among California State University campuses, at attracting Hispanic postgraduate students and helping them succeed academically.

Cordelia Ontiveros, associate dean in the College of Engineering, attributes the high percentage of Latino students pursuing careers in the field to the campus’ outreach efforts.

Cal Poly has the Robotics Education through Active Learning Program, or REAL, that offers participating elementary and middle school students hands on engineering experience, Ontiveros said.  Around 85 percent of the participants in the program, which has served more than 1,000 students, are underrepresented minorities, 50 percent girls, she said. 

“It gets them interested in engineering at an early age,” she said.

Cal Poly also has a chapter of the Society for Hispanics in Science and Engineering, the largest engineering student club.  The members do outreach to middle school and high school students, often visiting schools where they graduated from themselves, Ontiveros said.

Amanda Bustos didn’t have any mentors to steer her towards engineering when she was growing up in Los Angeles.  The 22-year-old senior said back in high school, a cousin mentioned engineering as a career option Bustos might consider, she said. 

The civil engineering major said as a teen, her school didn’t have any programs emphasizing math and science like many do now, so she had to be self motivated. Bustos attended two summer engineering programs while in high school, one at Loyola Marymount and the other at Cal State LA.

She said she felt drawn to civil engineering.

“I really like large-scale projects,” she said.  “Civil engineering is the one that impacts people the most.  With civil engineering, you work on the infrastructure of a city.”

Bustos serves as president of the Cal Poly chapter of the Society of Hispanics in Science and Engineering.  The 150-member group does outreach at high schools, especially those with students who don’t get exposed to engineering. 

She had high praise for Cal Poly’s push to be inclusive.

“Cal Poly’s engineering program is very diverse,” she said. “Cal Poly does a great job with that.”

Andrea Gonzalez, a 22-year-old senior also majoring in civil engineering, said she enjoys that Cal Poly is so diverse.  However, she said she would like to see more women in the engineering programs.  Cal Poly, at 13 percent, has a lower percentage of women engineering students than the national average, which is around 18 percent, she said.

Gonzalez, a member of the Society of Women Engineers, serves as a mentor.  The Corona native said that some young women might get intimated because engineering is still a male dominated field, but she sees so much potential in the students she meets. 

“I love that I can incorporate math and chemistry.   Everything I enjoyed in high school is in one discipline,” she said.  “Civil engineering is making a difference in people’s lives every day.”

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