Civil engineering senior Chris Aguilar walks through the geotechnical lab in Building 17 with the fondness of a long-time pal and the pride of a satisfied customer. Each piece of equipment is part of his college success story that helped him earn his first job.
“Look at this lab,” says Aguilar, pointing to the shear machine. “Other schools don’t have this equipment.”
After Aguilar walked across the commencement stage in June, he immediately started working full time as a staff engineer in the Burbank office of Geocon West, a civil engineering consulting firm. Aguilar says his training in the College of Engineering’s geotechnical lab directly led to an internship last summer with the San Diego-based company, a part-time job this past year, and a permanent position upon graduation.
“Everything I do in here, I do at work,” says Aguilar, who received his EIT certification. “You always hear this about Cal Poly Pomona: Their graduates are ready to work. It’s so true.”
Most of Aguilar’s classes were structured around projects that require understanding theory and application to a real-life situation. He learned to set goals, meet deadlines and produce a quality, final product. As a civil engineering major, Aguilar trained with industry-standard equipment, such as the direct shear test, hydrometer test and the Atterburg Limits Test.
For his senior project, Aguilar conducted an environmental and geotechnical assessment of a site in Pomona. He and a team of seven civil engineers fully inspected the property as though they were working for a real client, determining the geotechnical feasibility of the land, studying the impact of storm water runoff on the site, and designing post-construction best management practices for the site.
Aguilar credits the faculty for cultivating a polytechnic culture.
“The professors always know their craft as most of them have worked with in the industry,” he says. “They’re able share examples of real-life situations for us during lecture and on homework, making the subject more interesting.”
Not only is Aguilar an advocate for Cal Poly Pomona, he’s also a major proponent of the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, which gave him a head start in engineering. Aguilar was introduced to engineering beginning his freshman year at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside through hands-on assignments, such as designing a balsa wood bridge and building a car out of mouse trap.
Mike Martin, an engineering teacher at King High School, remembers how PLTW quickly sparked Aguilar’s interest in the technical fields.
“I remember Chris having a knack, a gift early on. I could tell from his freshman year,” Martin says. “Engineering is just applied math. When he realized that engineering was just real-life word problems, that was the hook he needed.”
When Aguilar arrived at Cal Poly Pomona, his high school training provided a smooth transition to the college curriculum. Anecdotally, he says, several of his PLTW classmates from King High School also studied engineering at Cal Poly Pomona and nearly all have found jobs.
“I don’t know how it ended up that way or if that’s the way it is. Maybe it’s because we were goal-oriented beginning in high school,” Aguilar says. “I would totally recommend Project Lead the Way. It has helped me become the engineer I am today.”