Brothers Find Calling in Engineering

Brothers Find Calling in Engineering
From the left, Salvidar brothers Rosendo, Gabriel, Sergio and their cousin Cesar Salvidar, each majored in engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

It is atypical enough for an undergrad to pursue the rigorous study of engineering. It is also uncommon for Latino/Hispanic students to enroll in engineering. However, the three Saldivar brothers, who are enrolled in engineering, are defying the odds.

A slight 5 percent of American graduates have earned their degrees in engineering. In comparison, 25 percent of college graduates in Russia and 46 percent in China studied engineering, according to “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.

Only 7 percent of those enrolled in engineering programs in the United States are Latino/Hispanic, and only 3.1 percent of the engineering workforce is Latino/Hispanic.

“Therefore, three Mexican-American brothers studying engineering at the same school, at the same time is important news from my perspective,” says Milton Randle, director of Maximizing Engineering Potential (MEP) for the College of Engineering.

The three Saldivar brothers – Rosendo, 26, Sergio, 23, and Gabriel, 22, – have each chosen to earn their bachelor's degrees from Cal Poly Pomona's College of Engineering. They are first generation college students raised by working class parents, neither of whom completed high school.

Statistically, the stacks have been against them, but that has not deterred them from taking on challenging academic goals, Randle adds.

“With more than 50 percent of Hispanics dropping out of the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to the Technical Talent Crisis Taskforce, the Saldivar brothers are the true heroes in our society today,” he says.

Rosendo Saldivar was the first to go to college. He enrolled at Fullerton Community College initially because he did not meet the qualifications of a four-year university; it was his only option.

“The reason I chose to go to school was because my parents gave me the opportunity to do so. I do not think I would have been able to go if it was not for my parents' and family's support,” says Rosendo. “Given the opportunity I chose to do engineering and did not care if I failed. I had nothing to lose, but the opportunity itself.”

He transferred to Cal Poly Pomona as a civil engineering major. Sergio and Gabriel, both of whom are mechanical engineering majors, also began at the community college before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona.

Randle has been fortunate to watch the three ambitious men grow over the years. He first met Rosendo when he was working as the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program Director at Fullerton College from 2002 – 2006. MESA awards a scholarship to eligible community college students who plan to transfer to a university, and Rosendo was the first student to receive the award.

“In some sense, the two younger brothers followed in Rosendo's footsteps,” Randle says. “However, their decisions were more informed since they sought advice from high school counselors and they had living proof from their brother that going to community college could be productive.”

They each attended Fullerton College prior to Cal Poly Pomona in part because of the lower cost. Although education was of utmost importance to the Saldivar family, there was the financial barrier. Like many working class families, the brothers felt obligated to contribute to the household by working their way through college, Randle says.

Their family has been a source of inspiration and support.

“My choice to study engineering was partly influenced by both of my brothers,”  Gabriel says. “I knew I wanted to do something related to mathematics. Seeing their interest in engineering led me to choose engineering for myself as well.”

Sergio, 23, took to science and math at Katella High School in Anaheim.

“Giving it some thoughtful considerations I decided to study Mechanical Engineering,” he says.

Rosendo graduated this fall as a civil engineering major. Sergio will graduate in fall 2007, and Gabriel will graduate in 2008.

Cal Poly Pomona graduates the most underrepresented minority (URM) engineers, and has the largest enrollment of underrepresented engineering students of all California universities, according to statistics provided by the American Association of Engineering Societies, Inc.