A Passion for Engineering Comes Full Circle for Hispanics

For Diana Ortega and Joaquin Nuno-Whelan, the Annual Conference of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) is a particularly significant and meaningful event. This is their opportunity to lend a hand and inspire a new generation of Hispanic engineers, just like they were encouraged many years ago.

Diana and Joaquin are two successful engineers joined by their Hispanic heritage and their passion for engineering, a shared background that has taken them to cross paths at different points in their careers. Along the way, they both leveraged their Hispanic profile and bilingual skills to grow and develop professionally. After more than a decade of work and dedication, today Diana and Joaquin have key roles helping General Motors as the company prepares to welcome thousands of Hispanic engineering students that will be traveling to Detroit to attend the annual SHPE conference from November 5-9, 2014 with GM as the Visionary Sponsor.  They see this conference as an ideal chance to transmit their enthusiasm for their profession and motivate young Hispanics that are still in the process of defining their futures.

image001 (1)Joaquin Nuno-Whelan is of Mexican descent. His grandparents, who hailed from Jalisco, Mexico, lived in Southwest Detroit and his mother was the first in their family to graduate from college. When Joaquin was still a boy he would visit his grandparents in Detroit during summers and holidays, and this gave birth to his dream of working in the auto industry. Eventually, Joaquin moved in with his grandmother to attend the University of Detroit, Mercy where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Joaquin was just 19 when he started with GM at the Milford Proving Ground.

After gaining some experience, Joaquin applied to a co-op program and was granted a year at the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, one of Mexico’s top universities where the United States, Canada and Mexico created a joint curriculum focused on building bilingual engineers. Joaquin had a full workload and the opportunity to work with students from around the world.  He refers to this program and the experience as “the best semester of my university years, and a life-changing experience.”

It makes sense that Joaquin later took on an international assignment working at the Toluca Engineering Center of GM Mexico. While there, Joaquin helped launch the FIRST Robotics team in that country and today GM Mexico engineers continue to work with Mexican students supporting and mentoring award-winning FIRST teams.

This is not the only international exposure that Joaquin now has under his belt. Since starting his career with the company in 1997, Joaquin has worked for GM in Mexico, South Korea and Brazil, – and has traveled to Thailand, India and China on company business.

“Young people think that engineering is only about math, but that is not the most important thing. Engineering is for those who want to solve problems and be leaders,” says Nuno-Whelan.

Having traveled the world, Joaquin is now the Chief Engineer, Emerging Markets at GM in Detroit where he is in charge of all the business and technology decisions for the next generation of small cars and SUV’s. He is also a member of GM HIT, and gives back to the community as Executive Director of Green Place Detroit, a program he founded to work with local Hispanic middle and high school students exposing them to the latest green technology applications for urban gardens and eco-house projects. Joaquin is also the Executive Liaison for SHPE, a role that he considers a huge responsibility.

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Diana Ortega’s parents are also originally from Mexico. Her mother worked at General Motors as a United Auto Worker Team member for 14 years and this sparked Diana’s interested in the industry. As fate would have it, Diana also went to the University of Detroit, Mercy where she was a couple of years ahead of Joaquin and they even car-pooled to campus together. And eventually she also signed up for the trilateral co-op program and spent a year at Tec de Monterrey where she gained invaluable experience.image003 After college GM hired Diana and, leveraging her bilingual skills, she took on an international assignment in Guanajuato, Mexico where she worked on the launch of a full-sized truck at GM’s Silao plant. At one point she went on a business trip to Toluca and was delighted to meet Joaquin again on the production floor. “GM is all over the world, and yet for us it was a small company,” she says.

After 16 years with the company and with an MBA from the University of Michigan, Diana is now Quality Launch Manager at GM Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, ensuring the overall quality performance of a future product for GM. During her time at GM, Diana has taken on international assignments of her own, allowing her to work collaboratively with global teams in South Korea and Mexico. In addition, since 2012, Diana leads the SHPE Recruiting Team.

“GM hired 26 Hispanic engineers during last year’s SHPE conference and our goal this year is to hire even more,” says Ortega. “We’re looking for people that are interested in how things work,” she adds.

To culminate this symbolic moment in her career, this year Diana debuts as the President of the SHPE Detroit Professional Chapter. She wants to focus her energy on creating professional development opportunities for Hispanic engineers of all ages. “I think this is the time for Hispanic Gen X’ers like me and Joaquin to help motivate Hispanic millennials and point them towards leadership opportunities,” says Ortega.

As the Executive Liaison for SHPE and the President of the SHPE Detroit Professional Chapter, Joaquin and Diana are about to join GM executives and others to welcome young Hispanics to Detroit to learn about the automotive industry and consider GM as their employer of choice. A passion for engineering has taken these two Hispanic engineers on extraordinary experiences working for one of the leading automakers in the world and participating in the evolution of the company’s iconic brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Today as influential members of the GM global family, they are helping to open doors for other Latinos in the industry.

For Diana and Joaquin, life is about to come full circle.

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This article has been shared with permission from Rene Canovas and  AXIS Marketing.

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Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States and feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance.Please feel free to email us at info@palantelatino.com
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