Engineering and technology college courses cover the problem-solving skills successful students will need in their careers. But what those courses don’t always cover is how to get a job.
For senior computer science major and Honors College student Ximena Perez, she found her community in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) as a member, president, and now as vice president of the student organization.
Perez, who was born in Peru and moved to Virginia when she was 3-years-old, came to Mason because of its proximity to home and its affordability. Her freshman year, she knew she wanted to join Latino organizations, and she found SHPE through connections with former executive board members.
“I gained a lot of mentors when I joined,” says Perez. “It was super awesome to see and learn from fellow engineering students.”
One important lesson Perez learned from her mentors and hopes to bring to current members is the value of professionalism. At her first SHPE annual conference in fall 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio, the organization's professional development side resonated. “The conference was overwhelming but exciting, there’s a huge career fair with recruiters from big-name companies, and I realized there’s a whole world of networking opportunities out there,” says Perez.
And Perez dove in. She sought out opportunities to test her skills and get recognized. One avenue she found was hackathons. “I completed a few hackathons in the last couple of years, like Mason’s Patriot Hacks and Georgetown’s Hoya Hacks,” she says. “At Hoya Hacks, I got to work with students from different schools to create an interactive app for DACA recipients. It was great to meet new people and work on something I was passionate about.”
These types of events are gold mines for building your network and testing your skills, says Perez. And her goal as a leader of SHPE has been to illustrate their value.
While Perez feels her computer science education has provided the foundation for developing her technical skill, SHPE helped her learn how to build her brand and pitch her skills to recruiters. “What you learn in classes prepares you for what you’re doing, but SHPE helps with actually getting the job.”
Marrying her two skills together, Perez feels prepared to enter the workforce after her graduation in May. “My time at Mason has taught me so much—in my courses, in SHPE, and in the Honors College, I’ve been given all of the tools I need.”