INSPIRATION IS EVERWHERE

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Connecting students with role models

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Joaquin Nuno-Whelan

FIRST Mentor; Chief Engineer, Next Gen Trucks, General Motors

Joaquin Nuno-Whelan, General Motors’ Chief Engineer, Next Gen Trucks, considers FIRST – which has a robust presence in Michigan – part of GM’s recruiting program. “These young engineers want to participate because it’s a way for them to network and develop leadership skills,” he said. “I also get to see who the high-potential young talents are and provide them with career guidance.”

A few years ago, Nuno-Whelan partnered with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC) in southwest Detroit to start FIRST teams in underserved communities. The program provided space and equipment, and has grown from two to 11 teams.

Nuno-Whelan works with FIRST Robotics Competition teams out of DHDC’s Robotics Engineering Center of Detroit. The Center helps kids acquire and develop the skills needed to pursue careers in science and technology. “We’ll have 200 kids and 50 or 60 mentors working together in one big space,” said Nuno-Whelan. “There is just amazing energy.”

“We want to give these same opportunities to kids who come from economically challenged neighborhoods,” said Nuno-Whelan. “They get the opportunity to work one-on-one with mentors who have come to Detroit from all over the country and the world to work and participate in these programs.”

The program just finished its third build season, and each year Nuno-Whelan sees more students pursue engineering or business degrees after graduation, inspired by FIRST.

Paulina Torres was among the first to move through the program, which includes about 50 percent female participants and several young female mentors, and companies are competing to hire her, says Nuno-Whelan.

Nuno-Whelan is excited that his participants get the opportunity to work with Hispanic role models who are aspiring to engineering and STEM careers. “When I work with the kids and can point to one of our mentors and say, ‘Do you realize you just did that better than that guy who graduated from MIT? If you can do this, you can do anything.’ That’s pretty cool.”


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