To fulfill your dreams all you need are courage and people who believe in you.
Roger's presentation about how being a first generation Mexican-American didn't prevent him from achieving his engineering dream inspired students in the Gifted STEAM Magnet program at his alma mater, San Pedro High School (SPHS Class of 1992).
A civil engineer in our Los Angeles transportation group with 20 years of experience, Roger is an active member of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Los Angeles County Chapter. He volunteered to go back to his own school, San Pedro High School, during ACEC’s 2018 National Engineers Week. In his presentation at SPHS, he provided information about “how to become an engineer”, ACEC’s theme for the 2018 National Engineers Week.
For many, talking about being an engineer in front of this many high school students would have been daunting. For Roger, it was pure joy.
As the library filled with over 100 students from the Gifted STEAM Magnet program, Roger’s sense of gratitude for the school and its teachers, as well as pride in his Mexican heritage, was palpable. With a school population of approximately 70% Hispanic students, his story about finding success in the engineering field, in the community where he grew up and continues to call home, was inspiring.
In his introduction, Roger explained why SPHS is so important to him. He talked about his hard-working immigrant parents, his path to becoming an engineer, what it was like leaving home to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and how after returning to San Pedro he married his high school sweetheart and built a life and family with her. This story showed that high school kids can appreciate a romantic story. The faces of even the toughest boys in the room showed dreamy expressions, and there were plenty of ooohs and aaahs going around.
After his formal presentation, a popsicle stick bridge competition was next on his agenda. Using two similarly engineered “bridges”, he selected teams for a boys versus girls challenge. The goal was to place as much weight as possible on the bridge without it collapsing. After piling on over 50 pounds of dumbbells and books, it was the girls’ bridge that collapsed first. Wanting to truly test the boundaries of Roger’s fragile-looking structures, one of the smaller boys in the room volunteered to try standing on the surviving bridge to truly test its strength. It was a fun, but unsuccessful, experiment.
A lively session of questions and answers
Q: What was the greatest challenge you have faced?
A: My greatest challenge as a first-generation Mexican-American was leaving home for the chance of higher learning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I knew I would miss my family and friends. While it was a very difficult decision, it was the best decision of my life. Attending an excellent university known for its engineering, architecture, and construction technology degrees, it provided the educational foundation I needed for a career that I love. I have worked in Big Sur, Fresno, Orange County, and all over Los Angeles. In 1995, I spent a summer on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, repairing drinking water lines and helping build a much-needed water treatment facility. I would never have never made this trek if I hadn’t overcome my fear of leaving home.
Q: Why did you decide to become an engineer?
A: My father was a carpenter and was always building things around the house. My mother worked in the canneries for many years. They both taught a strong work ethic and that anything is possible with hard work. They were also very clear that in America, you work hard with your hands or your mind. I opted to use both and believe in being a hands-on, practical engineer. The motto at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is "Learn by Doing." I agree with this motto. It motivates me to learn something new every day. I know my education will never be complete, especially with all the changes in design and construction technology. It is a good thing that I love to read and explore new things.
Q: What was your most challenging project?
A: Right after graduating college in 1997 I spent two years working on the final stages of various California-mandated bridge retrofits. While working on various projects, I was mentored by several of the most knowledgeable bridge engineers in California. By the end of 1998, the senior engineers’ scope of work was completed, and I was left alone to manage and analyze various components of bridge construction using skills learned in college. Having come from a very close-knit Mexican family, living alone in the hills of Big Sur was very difficult for me. My ability to live in isolated conditions while managing critical components of construction made me confident that I would be able to survive anywhere as an engineer.
Q: What was your favorite project?
A: These bridge projects were not only my most challenging, they were also my favorite. Being on my own with a lot of responsibility enabled me to use my engineering skills to analyze bridge falsework and perform on-site surveying.
Q: What project are you currently working on?
A: I am working on a train maintenance facility, the LA Metro Southwest Maintenance Yard. This facility will service the approximately 70 light rail vehicles that comprise the existing Metro Green Line and the new Metro line extension being built along Crenshaw Avenue and Aviation Blvd. This facility will provide service and inspection services such as heavy repairs, blow-down, body repairs, painting, storage, cleaning, and washing. The primary challenge I faced was working with LAX to install three 10-foot diameter wet cast-in-drilled-hole (CIDH) foundations approximately 120-feet deep. My role also involves coordinating the many trades on-site and resolving both construction and design issues in a timely manner. I have found that communication skills, both written and oral, are key to understanding and resolving problems.
LA Metro Southwest Maintenance Yard
The emotional finale
After a lively Q&A session, Roger showed his sentimental side by paying a special tribute to his past geometry teacher, Ms. Figuracion, who still teaches at SPHS. After giving her a bouquet of flowers, he described how she had helped him not only learn critical math skills, but also to believe in himself enough to pursue a career in engineering.
Roger paying tribute his past geometry teacher at SPHS, Ms. Figuracion, for the support and encouragement she provided along his path to becoming an engineer.