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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

‘Sí, se puede!’ An Engineer Steps into Leadership and Helps a Club Reunite

Lauren Barrera Reny, president of Cal Poly's Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
Written By Robyn Kontra Tanner // Photos by Joe Johnston

Lauren Barrera Reny has envisioned her final academic year for a long time — and it’s finally happening. She’s looking forward to completing her biomedical engineering degree and helping lead the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) during a critical time.

Like many clubs on campus, SHPE is making the transition back to in-person operations after months of virtual meetings, pandemic stress and ongoing movements for social change — and as club president, Reny’s charge is to set SHPE up for future success.

Ten Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers board members stand in black polo shirts
SHPE board members. Back Row (L to R): Lauro Vargas, Ricky Chavez, Nathalia De Souza, Isabella Jimenez, Lesley Milena Estrada. Front Row (L to R): Paul De La Cruz, Lauren Barrera Reny, Rebecca Cortes, Evelyn Zendejas, Ixelt Garcia.

“I hope to use this position to be a servant leader,” says Reny. “What that means is, although I am ecstatic to have this title, a title is nothing without the hard work and dedication put behind it.”

The road to her current position was not a clear-cut path. Reny was serving as the club’s secretary when she was inspired by the story of Sacramento State’s SHPE president, who made the leap from that board position to president. Reny admired their bravery and began envisioning a run for the club’s highest office.

Like any methodical engineer, she had countless debates with her friends, sisters in Lambda Sigma Gamma, faculty — and even herself — about the pros and cons of being president.

“Not only did I feel nervous, but I felt the imposter syndrome weigh heavy on my shoulders thinking I was not ready to run or good enough to do so,” she says. At the start of spring 2021, Reny went back home to think through her decision with her family. It was her mother who delivered the reassurance she needed to hear.

“My mom [was] always telling me, ‘Sí, se puede,’” quoting the United Farm Workers of America motto that translates to ‘yes, we can.’

“Although she used to say it for such small things when I was a child, hearing her say those words meant even more to me and gave me the confidence to make this leap of faith.”

Today, Reny and her fellow board members are taking a fresh perspective on the new year, acknowledging how the last year and a half has redefined priorities and educational journeys for many.

Overall, SHPE’s team of 17 officers is focused on blending cornerstone activities with new forms of support. The club is hosting in-person general meetings with a spectrum of corporate sponsors, facilitating tutoring for kids at Santa Maria high schools, leading campus tours, and supporting campus diversity, equity and inclusion events.

A person in a mask and black polo shirt speaks to a fellow student
Reny greets new students attending SHPE's first meeting of fall quarter.

Reny is also establishing four new chair positions this year, including a Wellness Chair. Inspired by ideas from past club presidents, the Wellness Chair builds workshops and resources centered around mental health — an important support structure for students of color, historically underrepresented in the engineering field.

“It is our hope as an organization that incoming first- and second-year students look into these new positions as a great way to get plugged into campus after being virtual for a year and a half,” she says.

Though engineering is in the club’s name, SHPE also aims to be more inclusive by reaching out to all students in STEM fields to take part in meetings, networking events and social activities. More speakers from a variety of STEM industries will also anchor SHPE’s networking events.

The club hopes to inspire members from all disciplines by sponsoring trips to the organization’s regional conference in Portland, Oregon. Reny says the club will raise funds to support as many students as possible on the trip.

“It takes support and talented people for the SHPE to be what it is today,” says Reny, “and I am grateful and honored to do this together.”

Reny has advice for her fellow Mustangs starting another unprecedented year: “I would encourage everyone to try something new or take a jump of faith because the worst that can happen is that you did not try. And indeed, ‘Sí, se puede!’”

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