Great Minds in STEM has announced the passing of its founder, Mr. Ray Mellado. According to the press release, Ray died Friday morning after a period of health complications related to a heart transplant seven years ago. He passed away peacefully on November 25 at home surrounded by his family. He was 74.
Ray Mellado, chair emeritus and founder of Great Minds in STEM, and Carmela Mellado, editor-in-chief (retired) Technica Magazine, appeared on the cover of Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology‘s fall 2020 issue, capping a long and fruitful partnership with Career Communications Group publisher and CEO Tyrone Taborn, publisher of Hispanic Engineer magazine.
“There is so much to say about Ray and his impact on the Latino and STEM communities nationwide,” Great Minds in STEM Chairman Dr. Juan Rivera said in the statement.”We’ll pay tribute to him and his legacy in the coming days and, frankly, in everything we do for the foreseeable future. He was a pioneer, a visionary, and someone with a passion for giving “underdogs” opportunities to succeed. He made a difference in the lives of so many, and his vision will continue to change lives for many decades to come.”
“Ray was a person who couldn’t wait years in order to make a difference,” the statement continued. “All of us at Great Minds in STEM, in the Latino technical community, and in our country are all the better of it.”
This article about Ray Mellado, chair emeritus and founder of Great Minds in STEM, and Carmela Mellado, editor-in-chief (retired) Technica Magazine, first appeared in the fall 2020 issue of Hispanic Engineer. Click here to read the full story.
She is a writer with a degree in English. He leveraged a degree in history and a background in coaching into a 20-year career at one of America’s largest and most influential technology corporations. Both came of age during the 1960s and were deeply inspired by the spirit of social and political empowerment for marginalized people that defined the decade.
When they married in 1971, Ray and Carmela Mellado knew they wanted to make a difference in the Latino community. By the end of the decade, they had zeroed in on a crisis forming on the horizon—but even they didn’t appreciate its size and scope at first.
Ray was hired by Xerox a year after they were married. As a young associate, he was exposed to the technology developed at Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
“The PC, the graphic user interface, the mouse, laser printers, ethernet, and local area networks (LAN)—all of that was invented at Xerox PARC,” Ray recalls. “Microsoft, Apple, and others, of course, figured out how to bring it all into the home in the 80s, and the rest is history. But Xerox perfected all of the building blocks that computers and the Internet are still built on all these years later—and they did it 10 years before the first PCs went on sale…20 years before the first public web page was published.”
Xerox famously couldn’t figure it out, as many of the new gizmos developed at PARC didn’t align with its profitable mainframe and copier businesses, nor did they seem to appeal to its large corporate clientele. But while Xerox is today the cautionary tale for high-tech corporations that resist pivoting to leverage their own R&D, a different lesson began formulating in Ray’s mind.
“Two things hit me like a ton of bricks after training at PARC,” he remembers. “First, it became crystal clear to me that the good, high-paying jobs of the future would involve all of the technology we were developing at Xerox.
“And second, I realized that anyone who didn’t get solid math and science education in school—what today we call the STEM subjects—would be locked out of these jobs of the future. And as we looked at the Latino community in Southern California, and later across the country, we saw how few of our kids were getting that education, and we realized we were in serious trouble. We knew we needed to do something.”
As the Mellados saw it, the issue wasn’t merely one of access. There was a fundamental lack of awareness of careers in STEM within the Latino community—for a variety of reasons.
“We just weren’t exposed to people who did these jobs,” Ray explains. Latinos in the 70s and 80s were more likely to attend under-served K-12 schools with few, if any, advanced math and science classes. “And even if their schools did offer those courses,” Ray continued, “the Latino students were usually steered into shop classes and encouraged by their counselors to pursue trades after high school, not attend college.”
“There also weren’t many role models,” Carmela adds. “We didn’t see them at home or in our neighborhoods. Latino children, particularly in inner cities and rural areas, were likely raised by parents who didn’t attend college or graduate from high school. And we didn’t see engineers or scientists who looked like us or had last names like us on TV, in magazines, or on the news, or in movies.”
This dearth of role models is where Ray and Carmela decided to start.
“Before we could address needs like scholarships, internships, (and curriculum reform, we had to first convince our community that careers in STEM were not only a possibility for them, but a reality,” Ray stated.
Ray helped found the Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement (HAPA), one of the first employee resource groups in corporate America. As president of HAPA, he began to network with groups like the California Association of Mexican American Contractors (CAMAC) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
“Through Ray’s work at HAPA and Xerox, we had begun to meet some remarkable Hispanic engineers just across Southern California,” Carmela recalls. “So, we knew the role models were out there. We just needed to find them and tell their stories—not only so our own people could be inspired, but so America could see what Latinos were capable of.”
Ray and Carmela were contracted to publish newsletters for CAMAC and tell the stories of members pursuing careers in STEM.
Building on the success of these publications, they partnered with Tyrone Taborn and Career Communications Group (CCG) in 1985 to launch Hispanic Engineer to give these stories a national audience alongside CCG’s already successful Black Engineer Magazine.
“I’ll never forget when that first issue came off the press,” Carmela remembers fondly. “To see Latinos finally given the treatment and the platform they deserved was one of the proudest moments of my life. We knew we were making difference.”
Carmela served as Hispanic Engineer’s magazine’s first editor-in-chief, guiding the publication for over 10 years alongside other early contributors like Grady Wells and Floyd Sowell. Ray, meanwhile, began looking for ways to leverage the magazine’s success.
“Thanks to our partnership with CCG and SHPE, we began to tackle the problem of providing role models,” he recalls, “but we knew we were just scratching the surface. The biggest challenge was achieving parity for Latinos in STEM.”
By the late 80s, it was clear that Latinos would overtake African Americans as the largest minority group in the United States, something that came to pass in 2003. Projections had Hispanics becoming the majority in California as early as 2040. And yet, by any metric, Latino participation in STEM nowhere near reflected this growing demographic clout.
“Everywhere we looked, the statistics were unsustainable,” Ray remembers. “From the numbers of Latino students taking algebra by the eighth grade and calculus by the 12th grade to those pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at ABET-accredited colleges and universities, to the numbers of graduate students and faculty at R1 universities—we were well below parity at every level.”
America, it became clear, would not be able to sustain its status as the world’s technological superpower if its largest minority group did not close the parity gap in STEM. To begin to combat this, Ray partnered with CCG to convene the first Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) in 1989.
The goal was to bring the engineers and scientists featured in the magazine face to face with Latino high school and college students who needed to hear their stories, but also to provide a forum where the best and brightest minds in academia, government, and corporate America could formulate solutions to these larger issues affecting the Latino community and the country.
To build on the success of the conference, Ray and Carmela established the organization that would become Great Minds in STEM (GMiS), which they grew under the HENAAC banner for the next 20 years.
In 1999, they launched their second publication venture with the roll-out of Technica magazine, which continued in circulation until 2015 and is now available online.
Long before their 20th-anniversary conference in 2008, however, they began to realize how massive the problem they initially set out to address truly was.
“As more research came out, it became clear to us that it wasn’t just the Latino and African-American populations that were failing to reach parity. It was ALL underserved communities, including Native Americans, certain Asian communities, and even the white community, particularly in rural and underdeveloped regions of the country. The national security implications alone were already at crisis levels by the turn of the century.”
So, the organization changed its name from HENAAC to Great Minds in STEM in 2009. Ray served as CEO of GMiS until 2015 and, together with his team led by current CEO Anna Park, built up a comprehensive range of programs that continue to confront these problems at the K-12, university, faculty, and professional levels.
They’ve also developed partnerships with America’s largest corporations, nonprofit organizations, and federal agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation.
In 2000, Great Minds in STEM began granting scholarships to students attending the conference. With the support of its sponsors, GMiS has awarded more than $4.5 million to over 1,400 students.
“I come from a family of construction workers,” said Manuel Retana, a graduate researcher at the NASA Johnson Space Center for Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University.
“Working for NASA wasn’t really in the plan,” Retana said. “Not only does it provide money for tuition; it also gives you the opportunity to network with top people in engineering. Those types of connections have a huge value, and I’ve gone from lawn mowing with my family to work in space robotics at NASA.”
Madeline Salazar, an aerospace engineer at ABL Space Systems and HENAAC Award winner, said she was in the seventh grade when she took part in Great Minds in STEM’s Viva Technology program for the first time.
“I actually remember feeling a spark,” she said. “I felt so excited because I thought, ‘I could do that; I want to do that.’”
When her AP calculus teacher recommended that she look at MIT, she hadn’t even thought of going to college in another state. “There was a group of people at Great Minds in STEM who spoke of me, the girl at Viva Technology and at MIT. Without having that in my mind, I don’t think I would have done as well as I did do in college,” she said.
Since 2001, Viva Technology has impacted over 140,000 students, teachers, and parents from rural Appalachia to urban East Los Angeles. “There’s a shortage of engineers and technical talent graduating from the universities in general,” said Michael Álvarez, former manager for workforce development, human resources, diversity, and WDDO at the Shell Oil Company. “The Viva Technology program is aligned with our strategy to raise awareness of careers and opportunities in the STEM space.”
Based on the success of Viva Technology, the Department of Defense, via the Army Corps of Engineers, partnered with Great Minds in STEM to develop the multi-year STEM-UP initiative, a first-of-its-kind, year-round commitment to provide programming across an entire family of community schools.
From 2008 to 2015, STEM-UP exposed more than 92,000 students to careers and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2014, Great Minds in STEM acquired MentorNet, a mentoring network platform that lets college students interact with professional mentors year-round.
Through a series of grants from the National Science Foundation, GMiS has partnered with multiple non-profits to nurture minority students and faculty in the STEM fields.
“There is no magic bullet that will be as effective as continuous attention with students, parents, the United States government, industry, and academia,” said Juan Rivera, Ph.D., the chairman of the board of GMiS and recently retired engineering executive from Northrop Grumman.
The problem of building the talent pipeline faces the greatest challenge K-12. Dr. Dan Arvizu, a member of the HENAAC Hall of Fame and chancellor of New Mexico State University, said more than half of the 51 million students in K-12 qualify for some level of meal assistance.
“If we are going to have them participate in what this country has to offer, then we’re going to have to educate them in a different way,” Dr. Arvizu said. “In order to do that, we need innovators for the future.” In Salazar’s experience, Great Minds in STEM is about Viva Technology, STEM-UP, the GMiS College Bowl, and the HENAAC Conference. “It’s building a pipeline, which is what every single organization that is part of a STEM outreach community is hoping to do,” she said.
That pipeline was first laid down all those years ago by a couple uncertain where that pipeline would lead.
Ray and Carmela are semi-retired but remain active supporters of Great Minds in STEM. Ray sits on the GMiS board as chair emeritus and serves on the NASA Advisory Council STEM Engagement Committee, which reports to the NASA Administrator, and the United States STEM Education Advisory Committee for the National Science Foundation. But their legacy is already set.
Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology magazine continues to set the standard for publications in the Latino technical arena, and the HENAAC Awards remain a mark of world-class excellence and prestige for Hispanic engineers and scientists across the country.
“Victor Hugo said, ‘There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come,’” Carmela remarked in 2013 when she and Ray were inducted into the HENAAC Hall of Fame. “We didn’t know for sure, but we had an idea that the time had come to try to bring forth to our nation the world-class contributions of Hispanic engineers and scientists who had been contributing to the advancement of this country. We knew you were out there. You had to be out there. I could feel it in my heart, and we found you. Thank you for letting us tell your stories.”