Celebrating Rensselaer's Rich Hispanic Heritage

Union Hispanico-Americana
Hispanic students have been vital contributors to the Rensselaer tradition since the Institute's early days. In 1850, less than three decades after its founding, Rensselaer graduated its first Latin American, Brazilian Jose Tell Ferrao, who then joined the faculty as an instructor in botany. Before the turn of the century, Ferrao had been followed by no less than 43 of his countrymen, along with classmates from Cuba and Mexico. The 49 members of the Class of 1887 included seven Cubans and one each from Brazil and Spain.
  In 1898, a new society, the Union Hispanico-Americana (quite likely the first Latin student organization in the country), was founded at Rensselaer. In 1900, the editor of The Transit wrote, "There are now about a dozen Spanish-speaking students at the Institute, and to be brought thus together is certainly beneficial to all parties concerned." By 1920 active membership in Union Hispanico-Americana had grown to 27 students. The next year they merged with groups at MIT and the University of Southern California to become the Alpha Chapter of the new national fraternity Phi Lambda Alpha.
  Another merger in 1931 brought another name change, this time to the Beta Chapter of the international fraternity Phi Iota Alpha. Membership remained strong until the 1960s. In 1969, with decreased enrollment of Latin American students and declining interest in Greek organizations in general, Phi Iota Alpha closed its doors. In 1984, a new generation of Hispanic students founded the Alpha Chapter of what is today the revitalized national fraternity Phi Iota Alpha.
  In October 1998, approximately 140 students, staff, faculty, and alumni gathered to acknowledge and celebrate more than 100 years of a Latino presence on campus. The weekend's events included a career fair, presentations, roundtable discussions, and a gala banquet.
  Latino alumni who are interested in hearing about ways to continue their involvement with Rensselaer can contact Ellen Johnston at (518) 276-6068 or johnse@rpi.edu.

 


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