Going Further. Together.

Jose Estrada Accepting SHPE Award

"If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together."

A wise piece of advice that was taken from a timeless proverb and passed along by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in 2016. Though the origins of this proverb has not been officially confirmed, the message delivers a resounding message, nonetheless. There are many ways to build a community, to build character, to change history — and that is with, and through, the help of others.

Born in Riverside, CA, and having grown up in Mexico until the age of 18, Jose Estrada came to the United States to learn the English language and study the differences between the two neighboring countries.

After graduating high school, he attended Southwestern College, a public, two-year community college located in Chula Vista, California. “The reason I started at a community college was to get to the level of the other students, so that I could eventually transfer to a university. It took a little more time, four years in fact, but it was a great experience,” says Estrada.

“Initially I wanted to study business — that’s what my dad does,” says Estrada. “But I found a mentor, my best friend’s brother, Luis Alfredo Leon, who was studying civil engineering at UCLA at the time. Luis asked me an important question: ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ He told me about engineering opportunities and how my interests in technology and computers aligned with this field of study. Aside from him, I never knew any engineers and had never considered engineering as a profession.”

Estrada started exploring the field and knew instantly this was what he wanted to do. He confidently declared a major in electrical engineering.

While studying at Southwestern College, he saw potential working with people and not just technology. He became fascinated with understanding technology and how it translates to people.

It was at Southwestern College that Estrada became involved with SHPE, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. The professional society provided him with incredible networking, leadership and mentoring opportunities. He held the position as chapter president at Southwestern College and helped the region as vice regional student representative, including chapters from Arizona, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Southern California. Later, Estrada ran for a national undergraduate representative position and became the first community college student to hold the position.

“I was interested in trying to do something different from other community college students. I started applying at universities and discovered that the University of San Diego had a new SHPE chapter — it was a new engineering school, in San Diego, close by and I felt it was something that would provide a different experience.”

Estrada was offered a scholarship to USD, and that was his final decision maker. He soon discovered that USD had a different kind of curriculum — it was not just technically focused. He was drawn to the social aspects the programs offered. “The dual BS/BA degree provides soft skills that are important to me. I knew they would help me become a manager in the future.”

Continuing his involvement in SHPE, Estrada got to know another student representative who was studying Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). “ I had never heard of ISyE. After she told me about it and explained what ISYE engineers do, I completely bought into it. It was exactly what I was looking for but didn’t know it existed.”

Estrada declared his major in Industrial and Systems Engineering and was on a determined path to success. “Persistence is my best trait. Coming from Mexico, spending four years at a community college, and transferring to USD — I never knew anyone who transferred to USD before, especially from a community college.”

Still very involved as a national representative of SHPE, Estrada also served as a mentor for the local chapter at USD. He started working on an initiative with community colleges to help students transfer to four year institutions. Estrada learned how to create workshops so community college students could find access to financial aid, professional and academic development and scholarships.

“There have been a few setbacks in determining the best first steps. But participating at SHPE’s National Convention allowed me to work with lots of people who went to community colleges that are now working professionals. I discovered that community college students were not being invited as representatives to mentor students. I needed to uncover the root cause at the national level, and look beyond my own problems. I challenged myself to learn about the process and strategies and convinced the board and the organization’s CEO to make this happen. After years of work, we now have the first community college track — with workshops at the National Conference focusing on community college issues and challenges. This had never been done before.”

Estrada was honored on November 10, 2018 at the SHPE National Conference and Gala with the Student Role Model Award — the highest award for an undergraduate — for his work devoted to helping community college students gain access to essential resources that simply did not exist before his initiative.

“It’s a great feeling. Overwhelming. I thought there would be more people who were more knowledgeable than me. But just making an effort to make a change is what made me win. I wish I had someone like me, sharing their experience. I thought it would be easier. We all need to be agents of change,” professes Estrada.

Estrada attributes his success to his family, his friends, his heritage and his determination. “My parents were intimidated at the beginning, when I was exploring new horizons, particularly at the gala when I was networking with high level professionals. They were surprised and proud to see how confident I was. But they are are very supportive and mentored me as much as they could to set me on a path for success.” Estrada continues, “My brothers were also excellent role models and set a high standard for me. Mexicans are proud and want to do things on their own. But sometimes you just have to ask for help. We need to break that stereotype to succeed, and our numbers are increasing because of this help.”  

Estrada will graduate with a BS/BA degree in May 2019. When reflecting on his academic experience, he closes with words of wisdom beyond his years.

“Changemaking Engineers don't just follow what they are told to do in school or jobs. We go out of our comfort zone and create change to make a positive impact and to improve society. We create a legacy to help others along the way.  College was a hard for road me — so the right thing to do is to share your knowledge, to lead others and pave the path for their success. By being mindful of the people you work with and sharing the success with those around you, you will make a lasting impact on the world.”

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