San Diego, Calif., June 27, 2019 -- Among the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering’s class of about 1,600 students that graduated with baccalaureate degrees on June 15 were 41 IDEA Scholars. These students from first generation or underrepresented backgrounds in engineering chose to go above and beyond the already taxing coursework required to earn an engineering degree, and participate in mentoring programs, technical workshops, serve as peer education leaders, and push and support each other through to graduation.
Created in 2011 to foster community and academic excellence among our top incoming freshman engineering students from diverse backgrounds, the Jacobs School’s IDEA Scholars program remains the signature retention program of the IDEA Engineering Student Center.
Here are some highlights from just a few of these scholars’ journeys to and through the Jacobs School of Engineering.
Jose Manuel Rodriguez
Jose Manuel Rodriguez knew he wanted to be an engineer since he was a young boy. He grew up helping his dad fix things around the house, and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with restoring function to cars, doors, sinks etc.
“I always kind of treated school as a game,” Rodriguez said. “I was always trying to get the high scores. I didn’t like seeing anything other than an A. I liked the feeling of doing well in classes. That’s what kind of motivated me.”
A first generation college student, Rodriguez was so motivated to go to and succeed in college that he skipped his senior prom to attend the IDEA Center’s Breakfast with the Dean and learn what the Jacobs School had to offer. Read his full story here.
For mechanical engineering student Cindy Ayala, the IDEA Center and IDEA Scholars program knew what she needed before even she did.
“Through the Summer Engineering Institute, they gave us resources before we knew we needed them,” Ayala said. “In the same way, they gave us mentors before we knew what questions to ask. But then when the questions started to come up, we knew where to go and what resources to look for.”
For Ayala, those questions centered around graduate school. Read her full story here.
IDEA Scholar Jasmine Chiang wasn’t sold on electrical engineering when she first learned about the field—it seemed like a lot of chips. But when she found out that electrical engineering underpins how all forms of electronic communication happen, she was hooked.
“All wireless information being sent, all of that needs to be done through signal image processing, and that’s my specialization now,” Chiang said. “It’s such an important part of our lives, to be able to have signals processed efficiently so we can actually send them in wireless communications.. I want to ensure that the technology for people to communicate around the world and even to outer space continues to be revolutionized.”
Juan Maldonado has had his eyes set on the stars since he was a young boy. Any time in the library was spent in the scifi section.
“That’s where my mind was-- the future,” Maldonado said. “I liked learning about these new technologies coming out, especially rockets. I was really interested in rockets.”
IDEA Scholar Melissa Perez decided to pursue engineering on a bit of a whim.
“I always liked math, but I didn’t really know much about engineering to be honest—there wasn’t much exposure to it at my high school.”
Four years and a degree in mechanical engineering later, Perez said she made the right choice, and is excited to start a career at Collins Aerospace this summer, where she previously interned through the Jacobs School’s Team Internship Program. Read her full story here.
Ricardo Rueda was really good at math and physics growing up, but had always thought about becoming a doctor one day. After learning about the intersection of engineering and medicine in high school, he was hooked on bioengineering.
“I started learning about the intersection between engineering and medicine-- it seemed so scifi to me, the things that were going on. It was amazing and I wanted to be part of that,” Rueda said.
A first generation college student from a border town on the Rio Grande in Texas, Rueda was accepted into UC San Diego’s bioengineering department—the 2nd best in the country—and set off down a path that would include research in two professors’ labs, launching a company that provides in-home health monitoring through AI, and a plan to work in the biosensor industry after graduation. Read his full story here.
Tania Vazquez learned a lot at UC San Diego—about engineering, and about her approach to life. A first generation college student, Vazquez spent most weekends her freshman year driving back home to Riverside because she missed her family and didn’t feel at home on campus. At one point, she considered transferring to a school closer to home.
Encouragement from her fellow IDEA Scholars and program director Gennie Miranda to stick it out one more year helped her find her place, and learn the importance of channeling fear. Read her full story here.
Environmental engineering student Manwinder Uppal was eager to get involved in the IDEA Center before she even arrived on campus. The summer before her freshman year, she saw that IDEA hosted a summer engineering program to orient new students to campus and share some tips to make the coursework a bit easier.
“Neither of my parents and none of my family members had gone to college so that was something that I needed,” Uppal said. “I got super excited and thought ‘Yay, an intro to college life!’ As soon as I came to campus I got lost for two hours, so it was good that we had an intro week.”
Jacobs School of Engineering
Jacobs School of Engineering