Hispanics move ahead in design engineering

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In the fifteen years between 1982 and 1997, the number of Hispanics studying for postgraduate degrees in engineering at U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled. True, the '97 figure was still just 2,811, but the direction was up, and that's good.

These figures are reported in a study made by the National Science Foundation (Washington, DC). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2000 (available at www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/women/start.htm) shows 48,600 Hispanic engineers at work in the U.S., out of a total of 1,397,100 engineers. The greatest number, 14,000, are engaged in electrical engineering.

Latino women are making gains as engineers, but they still have a long way to go. Only slightly more than 10 percent of the Hispanic engineers counted in the report were women. But once again the trend is in the right direction. In 1989, U.S. women received 138,703 BS degrees in science and engineering. Just 6,009 of them, or less than 5 percent, were Hispanic.



To see close up how Hispanic engineers are doing and what they think about their progress, Diversity/Careers interviewed nine men and a woman involved in design engineering. We selected the design area because it's one of the most creative and challenging aspects of engineering, and its practitioners represent almost all the other engineering disciplines. In the small sampling we spoke to, degrees range from BS to PhD in mechanical, electrical, computer, civil, automotive and audio engineering.

EE Dr Leonardo Estevez: OMAP software architect at TI

Dr Leonardo Estevez, a PhD in EE, works for Texas Instruments (TI, Dallas, TX). Since last July he's been developing software architecture for a chip targeted for use in PDAs, cell phones and multimedia applications. It's called an Open Multimedia Applications Platform (OMAP), Estevez notes. He works with two teams of eight to ten engineers each, one for Windows CE and one for Linux development.

"This technology is being developed for multiple customers," Estevez explains. "All their systems and their hardware implementations can be slightly different, and the way you do things needs to accommodate all of those different system implementations." Fortunately, "I enjoy problem solving," he says simply.

He joined TI in 1997, working in R&D to help various business groups within the company develop new products based on digital signal processing technology.

Estevez earned his BSEE, MSEE and PhD at Texas A&M University. "Pursuing a doctorate is a significant teacher of patience," he says. "You'll work for weeks or months seemingly without any progress, in hopes of making a breakthrough."

It's good training for the business world, he says with a laugh. "Sometimes you make a significant investment in a project, and then the business model fails or the business collapses and your investment seems to be lost. If you have a research background you just keep going, and sometimes it pays off."

Caltrans CE Armando Lee: a career in transportation

"We design highways," says senior transportation engineer Armando Lee of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans, Sacramento, CA). It's a complicated task. Lee's past projects include developing the geometrical design of a new freeway north of Sacramento, several "seismic retrofits" after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, freeway interchange mods along the coastal highways and bridge replacement projects throughout northern California.

Lee has been with Caltrans for fourteen years, starting as a junior civil engineer. He started in the department's transportation laboratory, testing concrete and other materials to make sure that contractors were meeting specifications.

Through the Caltrans rotation program he began working on design teams. "And that's when I started learning more about the design process," he says. "I worked on a project to replace a bridge in Orange County, next to Disneyland, and on resurfacing existing asphalt in Ventura County." He then spent a year working on actual construction projects, "so I could learn how things are built and become a better designer," he says.

On a day he'll always remember, he left work to find himself at the epicenter of a fairly major earthquake. After surviving that, he was involved in evaluations "to see if there were faults or major cracks that needed to be taken care of before reopening the freeway." Later he got into all aspects of freeway design, including sound walls, retaining walls and two new bridges. "It was a labor-intensive time of my life in which I always needed to be in nine places at once," he says. "I learned a lot."

So much, in fact, that he's currently managing the Caltrans Project Engineer Academy, where engineers can get tech training, as well as developing and revising training materials for design engineers and other staff.

Lee first connected with Caltrans through the Minority Engineering Program at California State University-Fresno, where he was working toward his 1988 BSCE. "They called me up and asked me if I wanted a summer job. The money was significant for the time so of course I agreed.

"I chose civil engineering because I wanted to build things for people," Lee reflects. "As a kid I always loved watching machines moving dirt, and in fact I still do. I like helping to meet the transportation needs of California."

Lee's parents were first-generation immigrants from Mexico. "They worked hard trying to keep five children fed and educated," he says. "On school vacations we helped pick grapes, peaches and plums. But my father would always remind us, 'If you don't study, you may end up picking grapes the rest of your life.'

"To this day I follow that ethic. In civil engineering, you're dealing with the public and the public's money and you need to be responsible and balanced."

EE Enrique Rodriguez designs circuits at National Semiconductor

Enrique Rodriguez is a circuit design engineer in the wired communications group of the South Portland, ME, design center of National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA). He's one of twenty on a team that designs primary analog circuits for digital video and telecom products.

"The circuits themselves range from low-voltage differential signal (LVDS) to phase locked loop (PLL)," he explains. One of his LVDS circuits will be used in a new HP printer; others go into apps at satellite base stations. The team uses SPICE-based and CAD software to simulate circuits.

Rodriguez has been with the company for two years, following an internship he did while he studied for his 2000 BSEE at the University of Maine.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Rodriguez moved to Maine at the age of nine. As a kid, a favorite occupation was taking apart and reassembling his family's TV and other electrical items. "Some of them functioned afterward; some didn't," he remembers with a smile.

All engineers are problem solvers, of course, "but in design engineering there's even more problem solving," Rodriguez believes. "We're pretty much inventing new circuits, never done before. So we have to be very creative and very understanding of the problems involved."

With the support of National Semiconductor, Rodriguez is studying for his MBA through the distance-learning program of the University of Phoenix, AZ. "All my classes are conducted through e-mail and chat," he explains. "What I like about it is that I can do it at home.

"Be motivated," Rodriguez advises. "If you're motivated and creative, you can achieve anything."

EE Dr Julio Navarro does RF design for Boeing

RF circuitry and antenna design are specialties of EE Dr Julio Navarro, who is an associate technical Fellow at Boeing's Phantom Works R&D unit (Renton, WA). The Fellow designation is the company's top form of recognition for people on the technical career path.

Navarro's group draws on many engineering disciplines as it develops what he calls "new packaging concepts" for antennas. "Then we hand them off to other Boeing groups who put them together in a system," Navarro says. The end product might be a new combat communications system, or it might be something like Boeing's Connexion service, which provides high-speed broadband Internet access for airline passengers.

Among the advanced software packages Navarro uses are a high-frequency structure simulator and various CAD programs. "It helps that we don't have to machine something to check it," he explains. "We simulate it, we show it, other people ask questions. Then we improve on it and re-simulate it. Only then do we build it."

Navarro completed his BS, MS and PhD in EE at Texas A&M. While finishing up the 1995 PhD he worked for a small company for a couple of years. "I think that's probably the best thing I could have done," he says. "In a small company you get to do everything, from talking to the customer to designing, drawing, building and testing."

When he started at Boeing in 1996, Navarro was developing low-Earth-orbit satellites. The next year he began work on Connexion. "We went through a step-by-step process and it grew and grew. Now there's a Boeing business unit based on the work we did. It's very gratifying," he says.

Born in Argentina, Navarro grew up in Texas. He tries to encourage young Hispanics to go into engineering through his work with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. "I give a workshop on what I do, and the kids like the high-tech stuff.

"Whatever you do, you have to enjoy it," he tells the kids. Design engineering, he says, means hard work, long hours and sometimes failure. "You shouldn't do it for money or prestige, you should do it because you like it. People will see that you do it well, and they'll give you their attention."

ME Alphonso Russo designs machinery for Kimberly-Clark

Alphonso Russo is an ME 1 at consumer-products company Kimberly-Clark (Neenah, WI). He designs high-speed manufacturing equipment for the company; his latest project is a Huggies diaper machine, he says. The machine takes up an entire floor of a factory in Singapore.

"My role as a mechanical lead begins with the design work, and goes on to support, installation and resolving any technical issues that come along," he explains. He will be traveling to Singapore later this year to make sure the equipment is installed properly and running smoothly.

Russo is part of a project team of eight to ten engineers, including mechanical design and process engineers and EEs. He's been with the company for two years, since he received his BSME from the University of Illinois at the end of 2000. He also has a degree in business administration, which he received in his native Venezuela, and he's currently working on an MBA through a distance-learning program of the National Technological University.

Being bilingual has helped his career a lot, Russo says - "especially at Kimberly-Clark, which has plants all over, including South America. Communication skills are very important because it's all teamwork."

Tony Uberuaga designs games at International Game Technology

Today's slot machines are glitzy, glamorous, and highly technical. At International Game Technology (IGT, Reno, NV), Tony Uberuaga is a firmware engineer on the design team. "Basically, I incorporate graphics, sounds, tables, bill acceptors, printers - all of that into a working machine, maybe a video poker machine for use in casinos."

Underneath all the bells and whistles, the machines are essentially customized computers. "We use an Intel 960 processor, and we have some of our own proprietary firmware; we build our own boards," Uberuaga explains. "We use flash memory cards to store graphics and sounds. It's pretty much completely designed by us."

IGT's firmware engineering group consists of about seventy engineers, with five to seven assigned to a typical game. Company departments devoted to math, sound, graphics and product assurance all get involved.

Uberuaga is beginning his fourth year with IGT. Before that he worked for another gaming company for two years, after completing a double major in EE and computer engineering at the University of Idaho. He's currently taking classes toward an MBA.

Although Uberuaga was born in the U.S., his father is from the isolated, fiercely independent Basque region of Spain, which Uberuaga visited last summer. "Basques speak an altogether different language as well as Spanish," he explains. "That's why my name doesn't sound typically Hispanic."

Many devotees will tell you that the slots are more than games; they're art forms. "When you're working with artists who want to do things in certain ways, you sometimes have to tell them that they can't," Uberuaga notes diplomatically.

In his work, Uberuaga finds that "People skills are never more important than on most design teams. You work with a lot of people with varying personalities and varying ways of getting their ideas across. You have to be able to get along with everybody."

ME Erick Espinosa designs tires for Goodyear

In his work as principal development engineer on the radial passenger team at the technical center of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (Akron, OH), Erick Espinosa focuses on passenger-car tires for the Latin American market. Different parts of the world favor different kinds of tires, he explains. European customers, for example, want tires that grip wet pavement well. Latin Americans demand more rugged tires, because roads there tend to be rougher.

Espinosa's multi-disciplinary team consists of compounders, who are essentially materials engineers, ChEs and designers who support various tire lines, regions and accounts.

"We interface with the Latin American region," he explains. "They provide us with a request for a given product and specify the characteristics required. We propose a concept, which may be a design based on a platform that has already been released in North America or Europe, or a variation that we initiate with our design studio group."

Espinosa was born and grew up in Chile, and joined Goodyear there in 1978, while still in college. He worked in a group that supports manufacturing, introducing new products and maintaining them.

He kept that position until 1990, when he was invited to join Goodyear's international technical center in Luxembourg. "I'm very grateful to Goodyear for giving me the opportunity to travel across the world and complete my education," he says.

He received his BSME in 1986 from the University of Santiago, and completed an MBA at the American University in Luxembourg in 1993. He moved to the Akron technical center in 1995.

"I'm here and I was in Luxembourg because of my Hispanic origins," Espinosa explains. "The international technical center found the need to create regional teams, and invited me to work with them."

Obviously, being bilingual has been a great help to him, and he works at it. "I have spent a lot of time, maybe even more time than I spent on my MBA, studying English, and yet you can still notice my accent. Communication skills are really important," he concludes.

ME Lorena Gomez works on advanced engines at Caterpillar

Associate engineer Lorena Gomez is on the core engines design team for the C7 engine at Caterpillar (Peoria, IL). The C7, she explains, is "the Advanced Combustion Emissions Reduction Technology (ACERT) configuration of our popular 3126 engine." The idea is to reduce emissions at the point of combustion without sacrificing engine performance and reliability, combining principles of combustion air technology, fuel injection, electronic engine controls and after-treatment. The engines are intended for on- and off-highway use, in vehicles like school buses and construction equipment.

"We coordinate all the major components - the camshaft, the piston and rods, the block - basically the core iron," Gomez says. "This involves a lot of fast-moving changes and we're trying to validate everything so Caterpillar can get these engines to our customers very quickly."

The C7 core engines design team has thirteen members who work with other teams in the Cat facility and with suppliers and customers. Each team member has design responsibility for specific components. Gomez works with the crankshaft, piston and rod groups, oil lines and several other components.

Gomez first connected with Caterpillar at a college career fair. "We did a thirty-minute interview at school," she recalls. "Then I got called to Peoria for a three-hour interview." That was a little over a year ago. Gomez received her BSME from the University of Illinois-Chicago last January and started at Caterpillar soon after.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, "The only high school class I liked was math," Gomez says. "When I got to college I had some fascinating seminars on fiberglass structures for airplanes, and I decided to go into ME because of my interest in structures."

Her advice to others is to persevere. "Follow what you really want to do. Finding mentors along the way is important, especially for Hispanic women engineers, because there aren't that many of us."

Audio engineer Erik Benavides designs auto systems for Toyota

Erik Benavides, a senior audio engineer at Toyota's U.S. tech center (Ann Arbor, MI), finds his work an enjoyable challenge. "An audio engineer has to juggle both the mechanical and the electrical aspects of engineering," he notes. "You have to keep on top of RF signals, LAN communications between components, speaker sound characteristics and the inner mechanical workings of a radio chassis.

"Technology in this area is rapidly evolving, so you have to understand the market trends, too. MP3 players, satellite radio and DVD systems have all sprung up in the last few years. It was the new technologies that drew me to Toyota's audio group," he confides.

Benavides grew up and still lives in inner-city Detroit. "My grandparents were from Mexico," he says. "My father worked in a steel plant and had a third-grade education; my mom finished high school and raised five kids."

Benavides received his BS in engineering from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) in 1992. "I believe someone from a culture other than the majority will always have a different perspective and experience," he says. His inner-city schooling made a difference, too. "Many suburban students studied calculus, physics and computers in high school. The university was the first time I had this exposure, so they were already a few steps ahead of me."

Has his Hispanic background affected his professional progress? He can't say. "Maybe I was hired because I was Latino - I don't know. But once inside, I had, and still have, to prove myself.

"The best advice I can give is to use all the resources available to you. Tell your family, friends and acquaintances what kind of job you're looking for. Join an engineering organization like SHPE, NSBE, or the Society of Automotive Engineers if you're interested in the auto industry. Request interviews with companies that interest you."

Mario Sanchez Espinosa does systems design for Cummins

Cummins (Columbus, IN) makes diesel engines, and as vehicle integration leader for advanced engineering in the Cummins tech center, Mario Sanchez Espinosa is a key part of that. He works with cross-functional teams devoted to control, performance, emissions, reliability and other aspects of engine design.

"The vehicle is a complex system integrating a variety of subsystems, so my job is about systems architecture and design," he says. "I work with and assist component designers, making sure that they consider the system requirements and constraints in order to meet the customers' expectations."

Sanchez Espinosa describes himself as a "hands on" engineer. He uses a variety of tools in his work - everything from wrenches to oscilloscopes to software packages like CAD, MathLab, Simulink and Pro-E.

"Design engineering is the solution of technical problems with innovative application of knowledge and technology," Sanchez Espinosa says. "It requires a good mix of analytical and imaginative thinking and a fearless mindset.

"It also requires a micro and macro vision of the environment where the technology is being applied - a high level of abstract thinking. Design engineers never stop thinking about the problem they're working on, and they're in a constant quest for improvement opportunities."

Born in Mexico City and raised in Queretaro, Sanchez Espinosa attended Mexico's Monterrey Technological Institute for Higher Studies, where he received a degree in automotive ME in 1994.

The year before, he started working part-time as a maintenance chief for the largest specialized truck fleet in Mexico. "After a year I had the opportunity to work with our suppliers, leading a project to define and design the optimal truck configuration for our operation." That brought him into contact with Cummins, which he joined in 1995.

At first he worked in the customer engineering organization in Mexico, helping truck fleets take advantage of new diesel technology and providing customer feedback to Cummins' tech center. Then he led a QA team that supported Chrysler plants.

In 1998 he moved to the U.S. as lead for the QA department in Cummins' mid-range engine plant. "After three years I asked to become part of the R&D organization and be involved in the definition of our next generation product," he says. "This is where I've worked since May 2001."

Sanchez Espinosa, for one, is sure that being Hispanic and bilingual have been highly beneficial to his career. "When you know more than one language, it usually means you've been exposed to more than one culture," he says. "That gives your mind the ability to see the world from multiple perspectives, and it speeds up your thinking process.

"Look for companies that embrace and appreciate the value that cultural diversity brings to product design and development," advises Sanchez Espinosa.
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