by Ramces Luna

Ph.D. student Enrique Velasquez Morquecho leads SNaP, a student organization that aims to bring together other organizations for shared community

When Enrique Velasquez Morquecho first walked onto the Forty Acres in 2018, he, like so many other first-year Cockrell School students, searched for community.

Velasquez Morquecho was born and raised in south Austin by a single mother who emigrated from Mexico to make a better life for her family. His mother worked as many three to four jobs a day to ensure her kids were always taken care of.

“If my mom can be a single mother and raise five kids and grandkids, then I can do anything — it didn’t become a question of ‘if’ it became a question of ‘how’ can I support my family like my mom,” Velasquez Morquecho said.

Velasquez Morquecho saw his mother as an inspiration who instilled the value of helping family and giving back to the community, and that shaped his goal of finding a career where he could help others.

Now a Ph.D. student in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering, Velasquez Morquecho hopes to become a faculty member someday, ideally at UT Austin. He would like to teach courses in manufacturing and design and conduct research about flexible electronics.

His Longhorn journey back in middle school when Velasquez Morquecho got involved in robotics while attending summer camps at UT Austin.

“I found a program I could go to and showed my mom and told her it was free,” he said. “If I could help my mom save some money and learn about robotics while physically going to a college campus I thought it was a perfect fit for us.”

It was here that Enrique started to think about becoming an engineer because he saw how they push the limits of what is possible while giving back throughout their journey.

“I found a program I could go to and showed my mom and told her it was free. If I could help my mom save some money and learn about robotics while physically going to a college campus I thought it was a perfect fit for us.”

While Velasquez Morquecho visited the Forty Acres during summer camps and became familiar with UT Austin growing up, he lacked community when he arrived for his first year of studies. He began getting involved with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and Pi Sigma Pi Minority Academic Engineering Society (PSP) to find the community he was searching for.

He quickly became an officer for these student groups; however, he realized that in addition to the two organizations he was involved with, many of his peers also got involved with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Velasquez Morquecho had a vision of bringing these student groups together to share experiences while working towards diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as one, united group.

So, like any good engineer, he identified a problem and found a solution.

Enrique snaps a selfie with members of Pi Sigma Pi. 

With a charismatic smile, a genuine greeting to each person he talks to, and a passion for bringing marginalized communities together, Velasquez Morquecho leads the group known as SNaP.

SNaP is a collaborative effort of three underrepresented student organizations in the Cockrell School — SHPE, NSBE and PSP. The goal is to create a holistic community of engineering students who represent one or more marginalized identities so that they can better support each other. Even the name, which uses the first letter of each organization’s name with an extra “a” to tie everything together, is a symbol of this community mission.

“We are working towards creating a community for each other — that’s what matters most above all, putting our community before ourselves,” Velasquez Morquecho said.

To build an inclusive and intentional community for students at Cockrell, Velasquez Morquecho and SNaP student leaders created a point system for members of the groups to earn bragging rights, spotlights and, more importantly, a chance to get to know peers outside of their immediate student organizations.

Members are divided into four “houses” or teams where points are awarded to members and houses based on activities and challenges designed by SNaP leadership. Each year brings a new theme for these houses. For example, last year focused on “Harry Potter” and this year the theme is “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” For those unfamiliar with the show, there are “four nations” within it and they are the Air Nomads, Earth Kingdom, Water Tribe and Fire Nation. Even if the students placed in these houses are not familiar with the show or have never watched it, they still cheer their house name with excitement any chance they get during meetings.

“We expected around 40 members out of the 300 people in the combined student organizations to participate in these challenges the first time we introduced them,” said Velasquez Morquecho. “We were very wrong — we had 200 people showing up and participating.”

Creating community among several student organizations is SNaP’s primary objective.

You might be wondering how Velasquez Morquecho and his team accomplished this. Through meeting with each student organization, curating presentations and making students feel like they are a part of something bigger than just themselves.

“People were excited to participate saying ‘Oh, I get to meet people from other groups? If I’m in SHPE I get to meet people from NSBE and PSP?’ and that was the goal,” he said. “It just got people excited.”

Each group brings its own unique identity. NSBE brings a sense of action and drive to become better engineers for the world. SHPE couples humor with seriousness to engage the membership in a lighthearted way. And PSP is a library of resources and information for anyone who joins. Now, when they work together on projects and events such as E-Week, UT Girl Day and more, they make it a point to include each other in their planning and workload for the success of their community.

Each SNaP organization has strengths and resources to accomplish goals for its respective members. At times, other SNaP groups step up to help with the challenges they are suited for. Essentially, SNaP works with and for each group in creating community and support for all three organizations. They want to model the importance of collaboration when it comes to being a part of Cockrell.

Velasquez Morquecho found unique and small ways for SNaP to create a unified identity through these challenges and establish pride within the houses of the organization with bandanas and chants.

“Don’t be afraid to be your genuine self,” Velasquez Morquecho said. “We sometimes tone down our culture and identity to fit in, but we should just be our genuine selves as engineers.”

In the classroom, engineers learn a variety of skills and concepts that help them solve problems and apply scientific theories to real-world problems. SNaP aims to challenge members outside the classroom to practice working with and for a diversity of people through collaboration on projects.

“We’re not all in the same boat, but we’re all going through the same storm, and we can learn from each other as peers and engineers,” Velasquez Morquecho said.

No matter where Velasquez Morquecho and SNaP members are within the Cockrell School or in their journeys, they will continue to celebrate each other because they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their organizations.

More than anything, Velasquez Morquecho wants his peers to engage with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities. And with the help of his leadership team, they created a community that has become like family for him and others.