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Eric Hernandez: Undergraduate

Department: 
Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
Computer Science, B.S.
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Photo of Eric Hernandez

Eric Hernandez is a second year computer science major at UC Santa Cruz’s Baskin School of Engineering, and the new president of UCSC’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). He spoke with us about his experience at Baskin Engineering so far, and some of the exciting things he has planned for SHPE this year as the club adjusts to Covid-19 restrictions. 

What drew you to computer science?

In the ninth grade, I participated in creating a prosthetic arm through MESA. I was part of programming the arm in Arduino (a computing platform), and I really liked the whole process... From there I took some computer science classes in high school and I really got into it. I eventually learned Java, and that is how it grew for me.

What has been your favorite course so far? 

My winter quarter I took CSE 30 with Peter Alvaro and it introduced us to a lot of different topics, like a little bit of machine learning and a little bit of graphs and different kinds of data structures. It was just so interesting because in lecture he was so enthusiastic... and the assignments that went along with it were applications of what he taught. I learned about a lot of different concepts and topics that sparked more interest for me. 

What do you love most about UC Santa Cruz?

For me, it is the environment, the atmosphere. There are a lot of great people. You are just walking around and people compliment you, people smile at you. Where I come from, I am not really used to that... People are just really nice here. It’s also the physical environment, like the trees and the wild animals. It is all really beautiful to me. Just walking around I see a deer, or a group of turkeys. 

Do you have any hobbies?

Right now, I just play a lot of video games. I’ve always been into video games since I was a little kid. Sometimes I stream, just with my friends. It is kind of a way for me to stay in touch with my friends, especially now that we don’t really have that face-to-face interaction. Also, I am a huge basketball fan. I love watching it and I love playing it too. 

You are the president of SHPE this year. What is SHPE and what made you want to get involved?

SHPE is the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. It has moved toward the inclusion of all STEM fields. It is basically a community, how we like to call it a familia, of like-minded individuals, of underrepresented minorities, and we basically develop peers professionally, academically, and personally. We try to hold recruitment workshops, interview workshops, and resume workshops to prepare students, as well as socials. That is a big part of it. We do a lot of professional stuff but we also like to take care of ourselves and enjoy ourselves. 

What got me interested in it- I was kind of a legacy kid. My brother came to this university as well, and he was in SHPE, so they kind of pushed me to do it... I got a position as a historian my first year and I really loved it. I just love the people most importantly, but it was really just the whole vibe it gave off. I learned a lot and it gave me a lot of opportunities. I earned a scholarship, and now I am the president, and it has just been growing, I’ve been expanding my network and it has been great. Our alumni stay in touch and they are always there if we need to contact them for alumni panels or advice. 

What is the National Institute of Leadership Achievement conference, and what did you learn there?

NILA is a leadership conference where they try to get all the [SHPE chapter] presidents across the nation to attend, and we had other executive board members attend it as well… Having it virtually was a weird yet very interesting experience, and I really loved it... It was great, a lot of inspiration and a lot of meeting with professionals and getting feedback from  them... there were a lot of people to help us. 

It gave me more confidence in my leadership, definitely… I think my biggest takeaway was not to doubt my decisions, and always to ask for help when I need it because I am not alone.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?

I am looking to start up a little mentorship program within the organization. That is going to take some planning and talking to other chapters and advisors, but I am looking to get that up and running sometime this year. Other than that, I am honestly just looking for ways to improve the virtual experience as well because back when I was thinking of running, this was just unforeseen, and now that we are in it, I have to adapt, I have to improvise and make the whole virtual experience a pleasure so that everyone is engaged and happy to be there. 

Members stay tuned because we have some collaborations with Microsoft now and Nvidia [through] some alumni who reached out to us. We are really trying to make a seemless transition and I think we have some good collaboration in the works, some good resources and information for students who might want to start attending or have been attending and are looking forward to this new school year. 

Do you have any advice for new students?

For incoming students, I would say just to join as many orgs and clubs as interest you… because you will meet a lot of great people, and I’ve really started to realize that. It is really about the people that you know, how you carry yourself through and what kind of support system you have around yourself.