When Nick Sepulveda, a senior mechanical engineering major, took on the role of Rice Engineering Alumni student liaison last year, he only had a vague notion of what the position would entail.
“Originally, the idea was that I would help with outreach between the REA and Rice students,” he said. “The REA wanted to increase student attendance at its events, and I figured I could do that.”
The volunteer position has evolved as Sepulveda begins his second year with the affinity group. It’s still about outreach, but Sepulveda sees his role, not only as someone who can get the word out that the Rice Engineering Alumni are hosting an event, but also as someone who can explain what the REA does.
“I had no idea about the REA before I took this on,” He said. “I had no idea they provided sponsorship to design teams, that they offered scholarship money. This group works so hard on behalf of students and the School of Engineering.”
Sepulveda had been a participant in the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership’s mentor program and his mentor was chemical engineering alumnus Geoff Gannaway ’97, who serves on the REA board of directors. At the 2016 School of Engineering end-of-year picnic, Sepulveda was approached about being the student liaison to the group. His work with Gannaway, coupled with the REA’s multi-year, $50,000 gift to overhaul the mechanical engineering laboratory, sold Sepulveda on the group’s impact on the school and he wanted to be part of that.
Sepulveda attends REA board meetings and works to keep students informed about REA happenings, encouraging them through emails and word-of-mouth. He tries to reach students by talking to engineering club leaders about why they should spend time with alumni.
“These are people who have been where we are now,” he said. “They understand what it’s like to be an engineering student here. They’ve graduated and they have this wealth of information, about jobs and career paths, about classes they found helpful. They are such a resource. Students don’t necessarily understand that.”
He finds communication to be a challenge — both within the REA and among students. Finding the best ways to engage students can be tricky, with their packed schedules and the fact that many students don’t commit to attending a lecture or event until the last minute. When he first took on the role, he said he felt a little bit like a kid sitting at the adults’ table at a family gathering. But, he has a much better idea now of the way the REA works and things he can do to help the group achieve its goal of connecting with students.
Sepulveda is working on a database of student leaders and department coordinators who can be touch points for sharing news about REA happenings with students. And he plans to create a job description for whomever will take on the position when he graduates in May. Being the REA student liaison helped him realize that volunteering is important, and that often, wanting to do something crashes into the reality of schedules and outside commitments.
“Sometimes, the REA would host events and they didn’t realize it was a bad time for students,” he said. “They always do a social event at St. Arnold. But in the past, it fell right when students were working on finals. So, this year, the event has been moved to January, and hopefully more students will come.”
Even if part of his tenure has been challenging, Sepulveda said he is grateful for the opportunity and it’s been a valuable learning experience.
“It’s so important to create avenues of communication between alumni and students,” he said. “We are all going to be alumni someday. Working with the REA now can help all of us see how we can grow the group and learn more about what connects us as engineers and Rice students.”