By: Dawn Cordero, associate director, Global Command Operations, AT&T and 2017 National High Tech Day Director.

Education is the key that unlocks opportunity. For students of color interested in technology-related fields, that key can be hard to find.

Thankfully HACEMOS, the AT&T employee resource group for Hispanic and Latino employees, is working to fill that gap with its 19th Annual High Technology Day.

HACEMOS High Technology Day will take place across 35 cities in the U.S. and Mexico on Feb. 23. It will introduce close to 3,000 students to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

We recently spoke with Emely Villeda-Padilla, a Southern Methodist University senior double-majoring in creative computation and computer science and a former High Technology Day volunteer. Emely shared her thoughts on the event’s value for Hispanic and Latino students.

“There are so many opportunities in STEM. I wish students were more exposed to them,” Emely said.  “When I heard about AT&T and HACEMOS National High Technology Day program, I knew I had to be a part of it.”

For Emely, volunteering for High Technology Day was personal. As a naturally creative person, Emely never thought she could combine her love of design with a growing affinity for computer science. And how would she?

Like many students, Emely didn’t have immediate access to mentors. Unfortunately, this is the norm for Hispanics and other students of color.

In total, Hispanics make up 7% of the STEM workforce in the U.S. And just 3% of Latinas are represented in STEM fields. Economic circumstances, educational barriers and stereotypes can impede students from considering these careers.

Emely saw HACEMOS High Technology Day as the perfect opportunity to empower students to overcome these challenges. She volunteered in 2015.

“I never had anyone to mentor me. I didn’t know where to start researching careers,” Emely said. “At National High Technology Day, students get to hear stories of real people who identified a career they are passionate about. They get the opportunity to experience STEM firsthand. It’s one thing to know you want to do something great in life. It’s another to have someone show you that you can.”

Emely is a longtime supporter of HACEMOS. She earned the HACEMOS Foundation Scholarship from 2013-2016. The scholarship offers $2,500 for students attending a 4-year college. Though non-renewable, students can apply annually.

Emely eventually secured an emerging technologies internship with AT&T in 2014 and 2015. Learning about these opportunities ultimately helped Emely access an education that would support her career ambitions.

“I was always good at math and science,” Emely said. “People would tell me that with my academics I could be a doctor or lawyer, but those careers didn't interest me. I loved the arts, and wanted to somehow incorporate them into my life. When I found creative computation, which combines the principles of art with engineering, I knew I found that balance. I urge students to keep an open mind. Attend programs like High Technology Day to find what works for you. ”

After graduating this May, Emely will join the AT&T family as an associate applications developer in the Software Development Program.

As someone who’s seen firsthand how programs like HACEMOS High Technology Day can impact the lives of young people, Emely is excited for the next crop of students introduced to STEM careers and mentors this week. And we are equally excited for her success.

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