Leopoldo Hernandez Jr. first learned about STEM fields in his senior year of high school. Since then, he became the first in his family to graduate both high school and university as a first-generation American and he has built a 25-year engineering career at Bechtel.

His work as a mechanical engineer has taken him around the world, with projects in the United States, Italy, China, Thailand, Australia, and other locations. Most recently, Leopoldo has lived and worked in Chile, where he is the Manager of Engineering for Bechtel’s Mining and Metals division. Leopoldo leads a global team of engineers and designers and is responsible for timely and quality project execution, compliance with local and international codes and standards, and talent development.

But Leopoldo’s contributions have been above and beyond his official job description. He has increased access and opportunity for his colleagues and the communities in which he has worked, consistently advocated for others, and driven innovation in his field.

Because of his professional excellence as a manager, Leopoldo was recently awarded the 2021 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) National STAR Manager of the Year Award at SHPE’s annual convention. The award recognizes managers with five or more years of experience who demonstrate innovative leadership in managing, inspiring, and motivating their project teams, as well as promoting diversity.

As the largest association in the U.S. for Hispanics in STEM, SHPE’s mission is to empower the Hispanic community through awareness, access, support, and development, and the STAR awards honor outstanding professionals for their selfless and committed efforts to advancing Hispanics in STEM.

Breaking barriers

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Leopoldo said, “It is not just about being invited to the party but being asked to dance.” Leopoldo has consistently brought new faces to the dancefloor in his time at Bechtel. Embracing a diverse and inclusive workplace, he has been a fierce advocate for underrepresented groups (URGs) and led efforts to attract and promote diverse candidates. Along with a team of colleagues in the Mining and Metals division, he has worked to increase the number of URGs in engineering leadership roles over the past four years, including breaking down barriers for women. As manager of engineering, he helped grow the number of qualified Hispanic and Latin female leaders and new hires.

Empowering communities

Throughout his career, Leopoldo has prioritized mentoring and volunteering. He has been a member, president, founder, and sponsor for a variety of organizations, including SHPE, Engineers Without Borders, Junior Achievement, and business resource groups (BRGs) within Bechtel. A mainstay for Leopoldo has been his belief in STEM and that the future lies in empowering developing communities through education and awareness.

One project he led for Engineers Without Borders involved a team of Chilean university students and Bechtel employees, where they drove the engineering, procurement, and construction of the Escalera staircase project in Playa Ancha’s Vista al Mar community in Valparaiso, Chile.  He is currently supporting a new project for the development of a water delivery system in Uganda.

Additionally, Leopoldo has remained an active member of SHPE, despite his many locations, and was the Bechtel Corporate SHPE Sponsor, for which he coordinated initiatives and relationships with student SHPE chapters at Texas A&M University and the University of Houston, both his alma maters.

Previous honors

In addition to the Manager of the Year award, in 2019 Leopoldo was recognized as a Bechtel Champion of Change, which acknowledges his contribution to advancing URGs, developing future leaders, and improving STEM awareness. In 2020, he also received the Mining and Metals Spirit Award, which recognizes colleagues who positively impact the organization’s culture by demonstrating inclusive behavior, encouraging collaboration, and promoting commitment to safety and COVID-19 prevention.