Michael Thompson never expected that discussing basic engineering concepts with a Raytheon hardware manager would lead to a job in the systems department by the end of the day. Especially when he couldn’t find his business shoes and walked in wearing well-worn tennis shoes with his toes peeping out the front.
Thompson (’19, electronic systems engineering technology) was one of 14 students who were offered internships or jobs on the spot during company tours exclusive to Cal Poly Pomona student veterans at Raytheon.
“I didn’t realize I was being interviewed – there was this enthusiasm for engineering in general that I thought was great,” Thompson said. “Putting my hands on something that can make a difference and working with people who are enthusiastic about it will make this a great experience.”
The VRC’s exclusive tour is largely credited to Alejandro Navarro (’17, chemical engineering), who started working at Raytheon after graduation and is now a senior reliability and quality assurance engineer. Prior to graduating, he served as a veteran lead for Cal Poly Pomona’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC), aiding students seeking assistance through the center.
“I like helping my community, and the time I spent at the VRC studying and helping out allowed me to learn how to better serve my veterans and their families,” Navarro said. “It’s hard as a veteran to be around people who aren’t veterans, and there’s a familiar space at the VRC that makes it a little easier for veterans to be themselves.”
He continued to serve his veteran community by connecting Cal Poly Pomona student veterans with hiring managers at Raytheon, hosting the first company tour in fall 2018. Veterans, some of whom have up to 20 years of hands-on work experience, aren’t the typical, undergraduate student, according to Navarro.
“I felt that if I got a good job after graduation, then I would try and help those who helped me, which the VRC definitely did. I started looking for opportunities to help my veteran community,” Navarro said. “Raytheon believes that veterans have relevant experience, with the familiarity on the products the company makes and with their ability to bring something to the team from the beginning.”
Gerardo Lugo, majoring in mechanical engineering, was also offered an internship after the tour of Raytheon’s hardware technology department.
“You’re able to talk to the hiring managers and display what you’ve done at Cal Poly Pomona, what they’re looking for and how your projects can intertwine with their work,” Lugo said. “I’ll see what mechanical engineers do, what they learn and see if this is a good fit for me.”
Lugo and Thompson found themselves at Cal Poly Pomona after serving in the U.S. armed forces: Thompson as a medic in the Navy for five years; Lugo in the Marine Corps for four years. Both enlisted after high school to distance themselves from their hometowns’ drug problems and saw serving their country as an opportunity to advance their future.
When Thompson returned to civilian life, he worked as a bouncer in San Diego and would sleep in a homeless community behind a stadium. He enrolled at a for-profit university for a few years but said he felt taken advantage of because of the tuition coverage provided through his GI Bill. Although his tuition costs were covered, he still slept out of his car and didn’t have enough to eat.
A friend brought Thompson to an outreach fair where Cal Poly Pomona’s Veterans Services Coordinator Elke Azpeitia recommended he apply to be a Bronco. He transferred immediately once he was accepted and received the needed support to fully use his educational benefits and get back on his feet. He found a community on campus in the VRC and Triangle Fraternity that helped take care of him and offered housing and food. Thompson’s proud to say that in addition to receiving his degree and having a job after graduation, he also knows how to surf, snowboard and play the guitar.
“Cal Poly Pomona was one of the better things that have ever happened to me. It’s just surreal going from living in my car, meeting Elke who said, ‘Just apply,’ and now I’m making money and have an office,” Thompson said. “Now, I’m such a different person and I got my whole life ahead of me. It’s scary but it’s also amazing.”
Lugo, who plans to graduate in 2020, said the Veterans Resource Center immediately approached him to help him complete the paperwork and get the most of his educational benefits, compared to not knowing what resources were available when he was in community college. He credits the center for enhancing his leadership and social skills, leading him to be an ambassador for engineering and a lead advisor.
“When I came here, I didn’t know what to do, but when I showed up to orientation, the coordinators at the VRC gave me the packet and said, ‘You need to fill this out, bring it back to us.’ That was a big relief to me,” Lugo said. “It was a ‘Get this done,’ mentality, which reminded me of the Marine Corps, which also had the mindset of, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do and get it done.’ ”
For more information on how to support the Veterans Resource Center, contact Azpeitia at email@example.com or 909-869-2782.