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Rodrigo "Rod" Garcia was the man responsible for founding the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He passed away on July 2. Photo Courtesy of SHPE.
Rodrigo "Rod" Garcia was the man responsible for founding the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He passed away on July 2. Photo Courtesy of SHPE.

Rodrigo “Rod” Garcia, the founder of SHPE, dies at 79

He was the visionary behind the organization that has advocated for STEM diversity for nearly a half-century.

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Rodrigo “Rod” Garcia passed away at his home earlier this month at the age of 79.

Garcia was a trailblazer in the STEM industry, and well-known as the founder of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). 

A civil engineer, Garcia believed that there was no problem that couldn’t be solved with a methodical, actionable plan. It was that approach that served as the impetus for the organization. 

While working for the City of Los Angeles, Garcia — despite working in the midst of a California tech boom and in a city that was home to the largest Hispanic population in the country — was often “a brown face in a sea of white.”

In 1973, he and six other cohorts came together to share concerns, but with the idea that the Hispanic community had much to contribute to the STEM fields. The group of Hispanic engineers stayed true to their professions, designing and building a way to help make a contribution to diversifying the STEM field and provide guidance on how to break into the predominantly white-male dominated industry. 

From there, the concept of creating SHPE was born, which stands today as the largest Hispanic STEM association in the nation. 

In 1974, SHPE was officially incorporated in Los Angeles, California, where Garcia served as its first president. 

His first order of business was to help establish the organization’s first collegiate chapters. 

Within less than a decade, SHPE began professionalizing its operations, and in 1982, Garcia became the first Executive Director of the organization, holding the position for over seven years.

Over those seven years, SHPE grew and regionalized its chapters, giving more power and consideration to local needs, while using its platform to inform national government and direction. 

Today, SHPE has over 13,000 members and nearly 300 student and professional chapters, serving as the preeminent organization providing support for introduction and advancement into the world of STEM.  

When asked about the growth and success of the organization, Garcia wasn’t the least bit surprised.

“We’re engineers. We drew up the plan. This is what we dreamed of: an organization with a clear mission and national presence. We always knew it had this kind of potential. To see it take off the way it has—it’s really special,” Garcia said at the time.

Throughout his journey, Garcia always encouraged students to work hard and stay committed. His involvement with the organization continued long after he stepped down as Executive Director.

He returned to the Board, was a fixture at the National Convention each year, and always took time to speak with students who were looking to enter into STEM fields. 

Garcia passed away on Saturday, July 2 surrounded by his family and friends. 

Since his passing, many SHPE representatives have paid tribute to the trailblazing leader. 

“Rod changed the face of our nation,” said Miguel Alemañy, SHPE’s 2021-2022 Board Chair. “He was a visionary giant and as such we should remember him with admiration and love.” 

Chris Wilkie, SHPE CEO, added: “SHPE will be forever grateful for Rod, his exceptional mind, endless compassion, and commitment to Hispanics in STEM… he will be deeply missed, but never forgotten.” 

As the goal remains to increase diversity within the STEM community, Garcia played a huge role in that effort and one that will continue for generations to come.

Services will be held for Garcia on Saturday, July 23 from 3-5 p.m. at the Skyrose Chapel & Mausoleum, 3888 Workman Mill Rd., in Whittier, California. The services will also be live streamed on Zoom

For anyone who would like to send flowers, it is being requested that they be sent to that address. In lieu of flowers, a donation can also be made in Garcia’s name at shpe.org/donate

Following the funeral and graveside service, there will be a Celebration of Life at Cal State LA in the Golden Eagle Building in Los Angeles, California from 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

More information and tributes can be found here.

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