By Scott Williams
October 2000 - It’s not hard to find examples of Hispanic influence in the United States. Our architecture, music, food, literature, and language bear the marks of a culture that long predates the arrival of Anglo colonists from Europe.
Hispanic influence in the business community is similarly far-reaching and has come to encompass the high-tech sector. For proof, look no further than this year’s HISPANIC BUSINESS 100 Most Influential Hispanics, a list that includes representatives from a diverse cross section of the nation’s most vibrant technology firms.
But will Hispanic influence in the high-tech sector continue to grow? Or will the demands placed on students planning to enter this field steer many Hispanics into less demanding – and, perhaps, less rewarding – careers?
Hispanic graduates with technical degrees are hot commodities who have no trouble finding jobs, says Leticia Araceli Vidal, executive director of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. And experienced professionals will find plenty of room for advancement as competing companies offer financial incentives to lure Hispanics to their fold.
“People really want them and need them,” she says, “but it’s getting them to that level that’s the biggest challenge. There’s declining enrollment in engineering for all cultures, and when you look at Hispanics and the number who are graduating, it’s pretty serious.”
Even more discouraging than the number of Hispanic graduates is the number of Hispanics with higher degrees. The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science is dedicated to helping minority students earn advanced degrees in math, science, and engineering. Ronaldo Ramirez, executive director of SACNAS, says obstacles preventing Hispanics from earning advanced degrees begin in high school.
“If the school does not offer advanced placement courses, then it’s hard to get admitted into, for example, UC Berkeley, where they give extra credit for [advanced placement] courses,” he says.
As Mr. Ramirez points out, it’s actually not so much a Hispanic problem as it is a problem among poorer school districts generally. “If they come from those school districts, it will be harder for them to get into college,” he says. “If you’re majoring in physics, for example, and you don’t have access to a rich course curriculum, then it’s going to be an unlevel playing field.”
Another obstacle to getting an advanced degree is the fact that many Hispanics are the first in their families to go to college, and many students find it difficult to postpone economic security any longer.
“If you get a [bachelor’s degree] in computer engineering, why would you continue on to a Ph.D. when you’re being offered a nice salary and you can pay off your school loans?” asks Mr. Ramirez.
Gabriel Rincon-Mora, 28, is an exception to that pattern – a Hispanic who went on to earn advanced degrees. Mr. Rincon-Mora, now a senior integrated circuit designer for Texas Instruments, earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Georgia Tech University.
“There was never any doubt in my mind I would go through college,” he says. “There was never a doubt I would get my master’s degree. My parents gave me the impression that I could do anything, and I was able to do quite a bit just because of that.”
Mr. Rincon-Mora believes the high-tech industry offers many opportunities for Hispanics. He says the good-old-boy network is less prevalent, performance is more important than ethnicity, and talent is so scarce that many companies import workers from throughout the world.
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