Originally from Venezuela, Samantha Guada and her family emigrated to Panama to avoid the economic challenges and political strife taking place in her home country. Although never a student at Georgia Tech, Guada’s father loved Georgia Tech, and it became Guada’s dream school too. Throughout her time as an undergraduate in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), she invested herself in student organizations. Guada’s chief role at Georgia Tech was serving as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), where she was committed to not only empowering Hispanics to overcome adversity and succeed but also to sharing Hispanic culture with the entire campus.
Now an alumna of the Institute, Guada is beginning the next chapter in her life. She recently moved to Seattle, Washington to work for Microsoft as a program manager. She plans on remaining involved in SHPE on a larger scale so she can continue to give back to others and help others find their support system just as she did.
In this interview, Guada discusses the role of SHPE at Georgia Tech and its significance for her college years, and she describes her experience of being a female Hispanic international student.
Why industrial engineering?
I have wanted to study engineering ever since I was little, but I didn't know what kind. I knew I didn’t want to focus on buildings, chemicals, or anything specific. So, as I was researching engineering as a high school student, I noticed that ISyE was the broadest engineering field and that I could decide later what exactly I wanted to do with it. As time passed, I fell in love with it. I’m constantly trying to make things more efficient, so it is a perfect fit for me.
Where did your involvement in campus organizations begin?
The Hispanic Recruitment Team (HRT) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. In my first semester, I applied to be part of the board of directors for SHPE, and I didn’t get the position. I decided to become more involved in HRT by going to different high schools and hosting visits to promote Georgia Tech.
In my second semester, a position opened for SHPE, and the president encouraged me to apply. I became the leadership planning chair and oversaw the mentorship program. Older members would provide support and advice to first-years in order to help them succeed. I was a first-year who was leading other first-years, which allowed me to know exactly what we wanted to see from the program.
What was your motivation for leading so early in your college experience?
I came to Georgia Tech wanting to take advantage of valuable opportunities and wanting to meet new people, so joining SHPE was inevitable. As a first-year, I looked up to the president, and I just knew I would be in that position one day. I wanted to give back not only to the first-years but also to the whole organization. Making a big impact on campus was very important to me and encouraged me to want to lead.
What are SHPE’s most important initiatives?
With 280 members and a $90,000 budget, we can do a lot. Our biggest event is Taste of Latin America, which is a whole day of Hispanic food and culture with hundreds of people in attendance. Over 10 countries are represented on Skiles Walkway. There is a lot of learning and bonding with Hispanics. Afterward, people showcase their country’s dancing, acting, and comedy.
We also provide scholarships that support members’ educations. SHPE aims to empower Hispanics to be confident in academics and STEM fields. We offer a lot of academic opportunities such as time management workshops, post-graduate workshops, and mentoring programs. I would say that our biggest focus is the professional aspect. Companies will come to events and recruit our members.
There is a philanthropic aspect to SHPE as well, where we give back to the community. Usually we participate in other organizations’ events, but this past year, we decided to develop our own philanthropy events where we created kits for the homeless sponsored by Eaton and sold candygrams to support the Latin American Association.
On top of that, we do social activities as an organization such as paintball, ice skating, and bowling. SHPE has so much to offer its members and caters to many different needs.
What is something that the average Georgia Tech student doesn’t know about SHPE?
One misconception that I want to address is that SHPE is only for Hispanic engineers. The truth is that we are a very inclusive organization, and there isn’t a need to be Hispanic or to be an engineer. Forty percent of our members are international. We’re super inclusive because we want to share our culture with many different people.
Also, SHPE provides opportunities to its members that are truly once in a lifetime. I found my internships as a result of being a part of SHPE, and these opportunities served as huge learning experiences. It allowed me to take the next step in my education and in my career. There is a national SHPE convention where members can find internships and research opportunities. Overall, the organization unlocks amazing opportunities to go further with your Georgia Tech education.
What is the best thing about being Hispanic at Georgia Tech? Conversely, what is the most challenging aspect?
It is very hard to move to a new country with a new culture, not knowing anyone going to your school while everyone else seems to know at least one person. It was a huge leap of faith for me. Initially, it was very challenging, and I thought I wouldn’t make it through four years.
However, I found a support system that made me feel right at home, and that was with SHPE. As a Hispanic, finding other people who like the same food as you or looking for restaurants where you can get food from home is very important to feel comfortable. It’s also great to have a place where you can speak Spanish, participate in events related to your culture, and bring to campus aspects of your culture. We like to call ourselves familia because we’re family to each other.
If you're interested in learning more about SHPE, or any of the Institute's nearly 400 student organizations, you can attend the virtual Fall Organizations Fair, which will be held August 24-August 28, 2020.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering