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As an intern through BuildLACCD’s College Internship Program, I work in AECOM’s office in Los Angeles, California. I learned about the program from a professor during my second year at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) — it offers internships with the firms/contractors working on the Los Angeles Community College District’s building program, and AECOM is the overall bond program manager supervising construction on nine college campuses.

My original dream was to go to UC Berkeley, and I still plan to, but sometimes life takes you in different directions and you just have to make adjustments and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way!

My mother (one of six children) immigrated to the United States from Honduras, and I was later born in Florida. We traveled across the country, moving to California when I was a toddler.  Working in merchandise and warehouse positions managing receivables, my mother often put in very long hours. Due to the hard physical work and the toll it has taken on her, I have had to care for her health over the past few years. Despite being accepted to UC Berkeley right out of high school, this responsibility meant a delay in my college plans, which was compounded by the challenges of paying for college. This is why ELAC became a great option for me.

What do I study? Well, I grew up in Compton, with the smells of recycling centers, auto body shops and a junk yard greeting me every day. This childhood experience, along with a lecture I heard at UC Berkeley during a high school visit to the campus, influenced my decision to pursue engineering. At that lecture, I remember the professor speaking about better materials that could be used for circuits — she described inventing a material that could be imprinted on a large scale and then shrunk down for efficiency and use in products. I was hooked. I saw my future — how I could design safer, better materials, thus improving the health and environmental quality of lower income communities, like the one I grew up in.

I am completing my prerequisite classes at ELAC and would like to continue my education at UC Berkeley and study materials science and engineering, with the goal of becoming a materials engineer.

My internship with AECOM is giving me a great head start on my career. I appreciate being able to work with and ask questions of AECOM professionals who are in the field doing and making things right now. Their advice and perspectives are helping me decide where I want to focus my efforts and how best to get where I want to be.

My own advice for my peers and other struggling students:
• Do your best in middle school, that’s when your future education takes shape.
• Blue collar jobs are nothing to sneeze at. They are valid opportunities during and after school.
• Ask questions and use counselors — a lot. They can help you find opportunities and provide advice.
• Not being on the “normal” set schedule to get a degree is OK, either in high school or college. You don’t have to do it all in four years, as long as you get there eventually.
• Take care of yourself. Be aware of your mental health — deal with personal issues like stress, emotional or mental abuse, depression and financial pressures. Ask for help when you need it!