Episode 17: Learning to Relate with Cesar

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My guest today is Cesar Tiscareño. Cesar grew up in Southern California to parents who modeled a strong work ethic and making sacrifices for family. Due to the potential expense and the lack of passion for a particular career, he didn’t think college was for him. He started his college journey at UCLA as a Math major but after three years, he made the difficult decision to transfer to Cal-Poly Pomona to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering. Connecting to campus and his classmates was one of the biggest hurdles for Cesar. He also struggled with asking for help and making assumptions that others wouldn’t be able to relate to his experience. Cesar is currently a Project Manager at MA Engineering. His strong work ethic and intellectual curiosity have allowed him to blend the three aspects of engineering (project management, business development, and technology) into a career that feels satisfying. Here is a little of his First Gen Journey. . .

Show Notes

In this episode, Dr. Hernandez interviews Cesar Tiscareño, a civil engineer and project manager, about his First Gen Journey. He discusses how he had trouble relating to others who didn’t share his background in both academic and professional settings. Finding mentors, clarifying his professional values, and challenging some of his own assumptions helped him develop meaningful relationships and build a satisfying career. Here are a few highlights from his episode:

·      Cesar’s mother was a homemaker and childcare provider and his father spent most of his career in the service industry (1:00). Growing up, Cesar never had a clear idea of what his career would be and didn’t really think that college was an option for him.

·      Cesar was at the top of his class in high school but still didn’t think that college was an obvious choice for him. Being able to afford college without going into debt was a huge barrier and almost kept Cesar from pursuing college. The support of his high school college counselor, application waivers, and an ambitious peer group encouraged Cesar to take a chance on college (2:00).

·      With the help of a high school teacher, Cesar discovered an interest in math that he thought he could turn into a future career (4:22).

·      Cesar started his college journey at UCLA as a math major (5:20). He struggled to find his footing academically and wasn’t able to connect with a learning community in his major. One of the biggest challenges for Cesar was moving from a competition/comparison approach with his classmates to focusing on his own achievements and efforts (6:48). He also found it difficult to develop social connections that supported both his cultural identity and his desire to expand his social network within his major (8:39).

·      A poignant meeting with a professor lead to a shift in focus from theoretical math to applied math (9:30). The professor suggested a lack of passion as the cause Cesar’s reduced academic performance but he didn’t consider the fact that Cesar didn’t have a learning community to help him build his academic skills. Ultimately, Cesar decided to transfer to Cal-Poly Pomona to study Civil Engineering.

·      Cesar equated transferring from UCLA with quitting and struggled with what that would mean for him (14:51). He didn’t find a lot of support from family and friends but acknowledged that he also didn’t express quite how unhappy he was at the time. Giving up the UCLA brand recognition was hard and scary, but Cesar felt like he was making the best decision for his future.

·      At Cal-Poly Pomona, Cesar found a renewed sense of focus. He found it easier to build community, had less financial stress, and felt he had more direction. Not surprisingly, this led to better academic performance (17:16).

·      Cesar currently works for MA Engineering, a minority owned engineering firm, but started his career at a large, more traditional engineering firm (18:39). Early in his career he continued to struggle with being able to connect with others who didn’t share his background. In the professional setting, Cesar felt a need to prove himself and always have the “right” answers.

·      A mentoring relationship helped Cesar find a way to integrate his professional and personal selves so he could better build authentic relationships in the workplace (20:52).

·      Cesar spent 12 years at his first job; he felt a sense of loyalty and debt to them but he also reflected on the model he had in his father’s approach to work (22:46). By looking to his father’s example, Cesar understood that seeking additional responsibilities, taking initiative, and being in charge of your own learning and career growth would lead to opportunity (24:13). Cesar’s work experiences also helped him clarify his professional values and create settings and opportunities that would align with what he valued most (26:21).  


Cesar’s tips for First Gen students and professionals wanting to go into the engineering industry:

1.   Network – Get out there and make friends, build relationships. It’s not necessarily about who you know, but instead it’s about who knows you. Those relationships will really help you in your career.


Episode 18: Creating a Career Path with Rocio

Episode 16: Choosing Between Two Paths with Andrea