It’s why he created a vision board with pictures of his goals — a cap and gown, his first house, a healthy body, his dream car. It’s why he schedules free time for “professional development,” which may include a new hobby, reading, sleeping or walking the dogs. It’s why he doesn’t believe in problems, only “deviations from an idealized state.”
Most of all, Santisteban believes in focusing on the positives. He cites an analogy from his grandfather: “Life is going to be like swimming in a lake. Right now, you’re in the middle. It’s going to take the same energy to go back. So go forward.”
Santisteban, who calls himself “a renaissance,” received his master’s degree in urban and regional planning in June from the College of Environmental Design. He earned a doctorate in 2010 in public administration from the University of La Verne. He also has a master’s in public administration from CSU Long Beach and a bachelor’s from CSU Dominguez Hills.
He’s come a long way from the boy in Puerto Rico who had an abusive stepfather and mother and performed with a traveling circus/theater group in South America. When he was 17, Santisteban dreamed of becoming a doctor in the United States. His grandmother warned him about discrimination and racism — and the fact that “you don’t know English.”
Santisteban devoted the following year to his dream. He studied English from language dictionaries and TV episodes of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” In 1999, he moved to the United States to start his college education, and he has never stopped learning.
“I’m a renaissance. I like to try,” he says. “There will be ups and downs, but I just focus on the goal.”
Santisteban, an administrative analyst and specialist in the dean’s office in the College of Science, says his true passion is helping and educating people. As an advisor to the Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority at Cal Poly Pomona, Santisteban is the groups’ principal cheerleader, guiding students to win awards for high GPA and community service. Both Greek organizations have won the Poly Gold award for best fraternity or sorority for the past two years, and Santisteban received the Greek Advisor of the Year award in 2010.
“I’m a mentor for several of them, also a dad sometimes, also a brother sometimes, and sometimes a big brother who has to come down and kick some butt because they’ve done something they weren’t supposed to do,” Santisteban says. “For me, the biggest thrill is when they get that degree and knowing for a fact that I played a small role. I know I’ve done a good job.”
Santisteban has also lectured at the University of La Verne, Cal Baptist University and Everest College. His next goal is to take on an administrative role and help more students succeed. The URP program, he says, has trained him to approach challenges as a group issue, not an individual dilemma.
“It emphasizes constructive development, constructive thinking. You don’t leave the room until you solve the problem,” he says. “Everyone is contributing to a goal through creative thinking and constructive development.”
Jerry Mitchell, URP professor and department chair, says Santisteban’s thesis on the rebuilding of a neighborhood in New Orleans reflects his belief in collaborative problem-solving. His thesis argues that because of a lack of public participation from New Orleans residents, the reconstruction efforts failed to reclaim a neighborhood’s cultural flavor, though it did provide new houses.
“I think he showed a good sensitivity toward the culture, the people and the region,” Mitchell says. “He took a cultural approach to design, trying to see how the two interact.”
Healthful eating is another one of Santisteban’s passions. In 2006, he was 430 pounds. After reading nearly 30 books on health and nutrition, he combined what he considered the best practices and developed a system that helped him lose 234 pounds. He wants to help others struggling with weight issues by writing a book describing his experiences and eating system.
Santisteban’s nutrition philosophy boils down to making smart choices and focusing on the positives.
“Losing weight is about being healthy, not sacrificing,” Santisteban says. “I still eat bacon and ice cream. I love bacon and I wish it was in everything. But do I need five pieces of bacon when I could have a big bucket of salad? I’ll have the salad.”