The California State University, Northridge​ (CSUN) campus will be home to a new innovation center that will provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities, and skills to Latino students. 

The Autodesk Technology Engagement Center was announced last month on April 14 at the CSUN campus. U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla attended the ceremony and said that he is proud of the accomplishment and excited for the students and community who will be able to take advantage of the center. 

“As the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate and one of the few Senators with an engineering degree, I know the importance of increasing diversity within the institutions that shape our society,” Padilla said. 

The center was named after Autodesk, a global software company for designers, builders, and engineers. In 2022, Autodesk was recognized in Fast Company’s “Best Workplaces for Innovators” list and was also ranked fifth on Corporate Knights’ 2023 index of “100 most sustainable companies.”

The company donated $5 million to make this center a reality. The 32,000-square-foot facility will include a maker space equipped with cutting-edge technology for design, research, fabrication, and more. In addition to catering these services to the approximately 40,000 CSUN students, the center’s community outreach programming will also encourage middle and high school students to pursue STEM careers. The center will also accommodate engineering and computer science courses for CSUN students. 

Autodesk and CSUN leaders and elected officials break ground.

“One of my main motivations for attending the groundbreaking was to help represent Autodesk Tinkercad, which will be available to support the Hub’s STEAM discovery outreach programming,” Autodesk Director of Product Management and Global Latinx Network Lead, Guillermo Melantoni, said. “Learners from ages five to 95 will be able to experience our free, easy-to-use web app for 3D design, electronics, and coding.”

The significance of the center goes beyond CSUN students. The center is expected to change and impact the lives of Latinos, who are often historically underserved and underrepresented in high-demand careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Melantoni said the partnership with CSUN was effortless. He said one of the reasons was that Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost graduated from CSUN in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “It had a lot to do with the fact that Andrew understood the impact that CSUN had on his life: the structure of this institution that cares about him and his growth, and teachers that cared about him and his career, leading to a very successful career. We want that for everybody,” he said.

The center will also house the Global Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Equity Innovation Hub, which was officially established in 2021. That year, California Governor Gavin Newsom provided one-time funding to CSUN for $25 million to build this hub.  

“By investing in highly educated, passionate, and diverse young leaders here at home, we can truly build our STEAM workforce of the future,” Padilla said. 

Hispanic-Serving Institutions are colleges or universities where at least 25 percent of their undergraduate, full-time students are Latinos or Hispanic; and at least half of the institution’s undergraduate students must be low-income, according to the CSU

Twenty-one of California State University’s 23 campuses meet these criteria, allowing them to compete for federal funding to expand and enhance educational opportunities for their students, including those of Hispanic descent, as stated by the CSU’s external relations

The new innovation center at CSUN will be open in the fall of 2024 and available for all students.

CSUN and the CSU hope that facilities and centers, like the Autodesk Technology Engagement Center, help grow the number of Latinos moving into jobs in STEM. Today, Hispanic and Latino workers make up only 8% of the STEM workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis

“I could understand that sometimes, if you don’t see many people like you in a certain STEM job, then you might think that, that’s not for you, but that’s a big mistake,” Melantoni said. “At some point, somebody has to start, and there are already many people in STEM careers, not enough, but we are growing.” 

Melantoni hopes that some of the future engineers and innovators are CSUN students, a campus composed of a student body that is 54% Latino and 70% first-generation students.

Melantoni also said that family plays a critical role in the careers of students, especially first-generation students. “It’s important to get families to encourage their kids to follow a career in things like engineering, science, etc.,” he said. “We might think that these jobs and careers are too long, and difficult, and you might not get a job, but that’s not true. We need more and more engineers in the world, and we are not lacking talent, we are lacking representation but not talent.” 

CSUN students participated in the process of making and designing the Autodesk Technology Engagement Center. Shayan Moshtael, CSUN’s student body president and chief executive officer, said he is very excited about the center to officially open.

Moshtael has been part of the development process since 2021, when he joined a committee that met about once a month for approximately two semesters. “The committee was led by campus administration, and it included people from student government and other students from across campus,” Moshtael said. 

Architect’s rendering of new center (lab).

He said that throughout these meetings, students would discuss the different elements of the building. “We talked about what we’d want it to look like, what kind of things we’d want inside the building, what we want the vibe and aesthetic to be, and all that to be,” Moshtael said. “Students had a lot of input and say on the matter, and I think that’s pretty unprecedented.”

Dr. Amanda Quintero, Senior Advisor to the President for Inclusive Excellence

And the Equity Innovation Officer at CSUN said that this building represents the future of STEM, not only at CSUN but also throughout California. “We want to have and develop virtual programming that reaches beyond the physical boundaries,” she said. 

Dr. Quintero said that at some point, students will not have to come to the building to access resources and digital programming that can enable them to be future scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. “Part of what we’re trying to do with the building is leverage technology to promote a sense of belonging,” she said. “We’re going to use the technology to eliminate barriers to information and college knowledge; we will use it to curate and tell a story of inspiration and aspiration to really get our students thinking, “If I see it, I can become it.”’

The Autodesk Technology Engagement Center is expected to open in the fall of 2024. “Students should be excited about the technology, the space, and just the entire impact that would have on their learning experience,” Moshtael said. 

For more information about the Autodesk Technology Engagement Center, visit the Autodesk website or the CSU news website

Brenda Fernanda Verano is a journalist born in Mexico and raised in South Central, LA. Verano is a two-time award winner in the California College Media Association Awards. At CALÓ News, she covers...