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Have you spoken with three people about what the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) is doing at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren, in our local communities, and nationwide?

If you have, you are one of the scores of Sailors and civilians attending the Hispanic Heritage Observance at the Aegis Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) auditorium Sept. 11 who responded to SHPE Chief Executive Officer Pilar Montoya's call to "tell three people about what it is that we do".

Montoya joined Navy leaders - including Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Commander Capt. Michael Smith, Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Executive Officer Cmdr. Elvis Mikel, and ATRC Commanding Officer Capt. Ian Hall - to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which is being observed through Oct. 15.

With a national theme of "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today," the observance celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

"This year's national theme mirrors the Navy's commitment to building and valuing a culture of diversity," said Capt. Smith. "Diversity is a strategic imperative for the U.S. Navy and it is critical to our readiness and mission accomplishment. At the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, we understand that it takes a diverse, multi-talented workforce working together to meet the needs of today's warfighters and provide innovate solutions for the demands facing our future Fleet. There is no question that our ability to meet our mission goals depends on our talent base, which is made stronger because of the capabilities of our engineers, scientists and business professionals of Hispanic descent."

"Just as they serve in the armed forces, Hispanic Americans have excelled in every walk of life and have contributed to our country as political leaders, community leaders, business leaders, in education and civil rights," said Cmdr. Mikel. "Today, on our nation's highest court, a Hispanic American sits as one of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. Pres. Obama has said the story of the Hispanic community is the same as America - it's part of our story. As we celebrate the traditions and values that define our national culture and character, they represent a strong thread that is woven throughout the fabric of America."

Under Montoya's leadership, SHPE has launched innovative national programs to ensure that more Hispanics will lead in technological solutions in the future. She makes it a priority to secure funding and ensure Hispanic student needs are met as it relates to furthering their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"We always in America want to move up but it's not just about you getting there and achieving," said Montoya. "It's about lifting those that are coming after you. We ask that you support the efforts that are taking place here. One of the big efforts is mentoringwe know that role models really make a difference in people's lives."

SHPE's vision is a world where Hispanics are highly valued and influential as the leading innovators, scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

"Look to yourself and see how you might be able to help us in mentoring young minds that have a tremendous capacity to do a lot of the cool stuff you are doing in science and technology," said Montoya. "We'll begin to increase awareness of the phenomenal impact that this organization has but we need you to mentor and we need you to reach out. If you're in an area where you can touch a child, we need you to do so. We can get to our vision but we need help to get to that point."

NSWCDD engineers established the NSASP SHPE chapter to increase the professional opportunities available to engineers serving onboard NSFs Dahlgren and Indian Head. The chapter joins similar organizations, such as the Hispanic Association of Dahlgren, but is focused on providing professional assistance and mentoring to current and future scientists and engineers.

"We are all aligning at SHPE to make sure we empower the Hispanic community to realize their potential," said Montoya. "We are encouraging elementary and high school students to fulfill their potential through STEM awareness and support so they become part of that network of solutionsthat network of creative minds that move this country to being a leader in innovation."

In his 2011 National Hispanic Heritage Month Presidential Proclamation, Pres. Barack Obama noted, "the future of America is inextricably linked to the future of our Hispanic community. Our country thrives on the diversity and ingenuity of all our people, and our ability to out innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world will depend greatly on the success of Hispanics."

Montoya believes that SHPE initiativesincluding the NSASP chapter's plans to engage in STEM outreach events and science fairswill greatly impact that STEM success.

"We're talking about the future of this countrythe young kids that really need to be inspired, that need to be encouraged, they need to believe that somebody believes in them, that they can graduate from HS and that they have the capacity to do that and to ultimately enter a university," said Montoya. "The (SHPE) chapters, the volunteers, coordinate a lot of these activities. Many times you have a child who doesn't know what STEM is, and by the time they're done, they're aware of our organization and the potential they have."

According to 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics comprise 16.3 percent of the total United States population, or 50.5 million people, forming our county's largest racial or ethnic minority. Additionally, it is projected that by 2050, a quarter of the nation's workforce will be Hispanic.

"When you look at the population, the future, innovation, creativity and your workforcewe need to encourage and inspire individuals from the community to come and be part of this (SHPE) family," said Montoya. "The Hispanic community is growing exponentially but the numbers of graduates in engineering is not reflective of that growth. We need to begin to educate and inspire individuals to see science and technology as exciting and funand that they're the ones who provide technology for the future."

Today, the Navy's workforce includes more than 58,000 Hispanic active duty and reserve Sailors and officers and nearly 15,000 Hispanic civilians serve in the Navy total force, including four Hispanic flag officers and 172 Hispanic master chiefs.

"What we've seen today is an investment that we're making in our youth to go help build our future which is very important if we want to continue to be a world leader," said Capt. Hall at the event's conclusion. "As our Hispanic population grows, by encouraging elementary, high school and college students now, that will get a greater effect in the future."

NSASP SHPE chapter membership is open to all, regardless of ethnicity. "SHPE is all-inclusive," said Jessica Delgado, NSWCDD Hispanic employment program manager and co-founder of the NSASP SHPE Chapter. "It is not only for Hispanics, although it has 'Hispanic' in the title. I think SHPE will bring good things to the bases in Dahlgren and Indian Head, as well as the community."

"We hope to encourage you to be part of our SHPE family," said Montoya. "It's $5.00 for students and $45.00 for professionals and you don't have to be an engineer or scientist to joinyou can be an associate member because you believe in our cause."

For more information about joining the NSASP SHPE Chapter, e-mail NSASP.SHPEgmail.com.