National Hispanic Heritage Month: Fostering diversity and inclusivity through STEM

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center
Published Sept. 29, 2022
Dr. Norberto Nadal-Caraballo, Edith Martinez-Guerra and Evelyn Villanueva, researchers with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, strive to encourage interest and support younger Hispanic generations in their pursuit of STEM careers.

Dr. Norberto Nadal-Caraballo, Edith Martinez-Guerra and Evelyn Villanueva, researchers with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, strive to encourage interest and support younger Hispanic generations in their pursuit of STEM careers.

VICKSBURG, Miss. – Each year, September 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the legacies and cultures of Hispanic American citizens who come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) has a vibrant Hispanic workforce whose contributions have helped shaped the ERDC into the world-class research organization it is today.

Hispanics are a varied community, from many different areas and climates, speaking different dialects and having different traditions. They represent one of the fastest growing populations in the Nation.

“Diversity, in general, is fundamental to any enterprise,” said Dr. Norberto Nadal-Caraballo, senior research civil engineer and lead of the Coastal Hazards Group at the ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. “For us to build a safer, better world and to innovate, we need to embrace different perspectives and ideas arising from a broader range of cultures, backgrounds, upbringings and life experiences.”

“When I think of diversity and inclusion, I do not think of ethnicity but about what each induvial contributes to make this world a better place” said Edith Martinez-Guerra, a research environmental engineer with ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory. “I think diversity and inclusion make us stronger and help us thrive as a team.”

Hispanics are known for having a profound and positive influence on America through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service. Their centuries-old traditions reflect the multi-ethnic and multicultural customs of their community, which have enhanced and shaped the national character of the United States.

“I always perform my duties with a service-oriented mindset, so that the value provided to the organization is readily apparent while contributing a vital service to all members of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) and the ERDC,” said Evelyn Villanueva, a research geologist with ERDC-GSL. “Cultural and intellectual diversity in STEM-related fields are key elements to building a competitive and strong organization like ERDC.”

According to a Pew Research Center report from April 2021, Hispanic people make up 8% of workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Though Hispanic representation in STEM has grown one percentage point since 2018, many believe more should be done to encourage interest and support the younger generations in their pursuit of STEM careers.

“I believe in leading by example, so I hope that my STEM career to some degree can serve as an inspiration and as an example of what can be achieved regardless of ethnicity or other possible challenges,” said Nadal-Caraballo. “I think it is imperative to focus on positive experiences and use any negative interactions as additional motivation. Ultimately, our work and results are the best presentation card.”

“I hope that I can influence or share my love for the environment, science and engineering,” said Martinez-Guerra. “I also hope they can see that no matter where we come from, we can achieve great things through STEM.”

The 2022 theme for National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration is “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation”. Roughly translated, Unidos means united. The concept of deriving strength from unity has long been upheld by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense, where diversity and inclusion is paramount within the organization to ensure a highly skilled, highly trained workforce capable of meeting current and future mission requirements.

“It’s important to celebrate diversity as it will help increase cultural awareness and acceptance,” said Villanueva. “I think ERDC does a pretty good job at celebrating our cultural backgrounds.”

“I always have been interested in science and engineering and how we can transform lives by making positive changes through new discoveries in STEM fields,” she continued. “I always strive to mentor and facilitate interactions as much as I can with students, whether at work or in the community.”

“Throughout this journey, I also hope to do my part in recruiting and mentoring students, particularly those that might be overlooked due to their ethnicity or other factors,” said Nadal-Caraballo. “It can be challenging to effectively promote understanding and acceptance of groups that are not necessarily ingrained throughout all levels of an organization. Strengthening and broadening efforts to increase ERDC’s workforce diversity, and retaining such a workforce, are vital to our mission and continued success in our future.”