Building bike lanes and communities

Portrait of Aaron Mendez

From the moment he joined Oregon State University’s College of Engineering in 2019, Aaron Mendez has pursued opportunities that promote leadership and community, including serving as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student chapter and a statewide transportation committee.

“I think that’ll be helpful as I move into the professional world,” said Mendez, now a senior wrapping up his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. “It’s also important to me to get out in the community, showing students that engineering is a strong career path.”

During his first year, Mendez took the civil and construction engineering orientation course to explore different subdisciplines. Each unique component of that course ― from testing the survivability of scale-model structures against simulated tsunamis to learning in-depth information about the architectural design of Kearney Hall ― reinforced his interest. He specifically gravitated toward infrastructure, appreciating the fundamental importance of the buildings, roads, sidewalks, and underground pipes all around us.

Portrait of Aaron Mendez in front of Waldo Hall
Aaron Mendez

“I really love the infrastructure part of civil engineering, being able to build giant projects and
seeing your designs come to life for everyone in a community to use daily,” Mendez said.

Mendez gained first-year research experience in the lab of David Hurwitz, professor of transportation engineering and director of the Kiewit Center, as part of the STEM Leaders Program. During this time, Mendez networked with a graduate student researcher who offered him a seat on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. Mendez, a cyclist himself who fervently advocates for bike/ped safety and eco- friendly transportation, saw this as an ideal leadership and community service opportunity.

“Young people need opportunities to be on statewide committees,” he said. “With OBPAC, we help ODOT look at issues directly relevant to bike and ped users in Oregon — deciding on bike lane widths, revising parts of the highway design manual, allocating funds to the Oregon Community Paths Program, and more. Serving on this committee has helped me understand more about how transportation in Oregon works and how a state agency runs overall.”

Mendez has brought the same spirit of service to SHPE, which he also joined during his first year. After the pandemic struck in 2020 and sent everyone to Zoom, SHPE continued to meet virtually. Mendez was elected as club outreach coordinator during his second year, and he served as president during his third. This year, he stood down to allow younger SHPE members the chance to build their own leadership experience.

At the end of November 2022, Mendez went with other Oregon State SHPE members to the national SHPE convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Besides opportunities to network and learn about engineering projects and career prospects, this trip held personal meaning for them; roughly 6,000-9,000 Hispanic STEM professionals had gathered to engage with colleagues from across the country.

“It was great seeing people who look like you all around and hearing them speak Spanish,” Mendez said. “We’re all in STEM and going through similar situations, so it’s great to be in that environment to show you’re not alone; you’re one piece of a bigger puzzle.”

In addition to OBPAC and SHPE, Mendez has been involved with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program since his first year. He is now serving as the head mentor within LSAMP, where he supervises a bridge program of 60 students and 20 mentors. He credits his own mentor, Sonia Camacho, for helping him throughout his time at Oregon State and instilling in him a commitment to the program.

“Sonia has been really impactful in laying the groundwork for what I’ve done at Oregon State,” Mendez said. “These are the types of connections that you make in LSAMP. I strive to be a resource for my mentees as well.”

Mendez, who graduates in June, recently accepted a full-time position as a transportation engineer with design-oriented engineering firm HDR in Bellevue, Washington. While moving means he must relinquish his OBPAC seat in May, he is excited to engage in community outreach in the Seattle area, elevating aspiring Hispanic and Latino engineers.

“Being in engineering classes can be daunting, so I’m glad I found my own groups to support me and make Oregon State feel like a second home,” Mendez reflected. “Leading communities and doing outreach is something I want to continue, being a role model for future generations.”

Feb. 16, 2023