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Father knows best: Never too late for first-generation, nontraditional student

Jun 15, 2018

José Ruvalcaba and family

The college experience for José Ruvalcaba '18 began later than most, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his dream.

Growing up, higher education wasn't understood or valued by his parents. In his father's mind, education was too big of a dream and unachievable. Something changed for Ruvalcaba when he attended his cousin's college graduation a few years ago. He saw her walk across the stage and decided, "I want that."

He and his wife, Mayra, seized that inspiration and developed a plan to make his dream possible. She took full financial responsibility by becoming the family's sole breadwinner for four years as he started going to school at Diablo Valley College.

Initially not certain what he wanted to major in, he narrowed it down to civil engineering, because he had worked in construction for 18 years. Ruvalcaba chose to transfer to Pacific, because it was close to home in Tracy, an important consideration since he and his wife are raising two young boys, Emiliano and Elias. He was also particularly intrigued by the personal attention, faculty support for students, and the amount of resources available.  

Ruvalcaba describes meeting his adviser and professor, Camilla Saviz as one of the major highlights of his time at Pacific.

"She genuinely cares about her students," Ruvalcaba said. She and other professors in the civil engineering department were always welcoming and supportive both in and out of the classroom."

As a husband, parent and full-time student, Ruvalcaba didn't have much free time, but when he did, he was involved in the Pacific chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers, MESA Engineering Program and SUCCESS TRIO program, a federally funded program to provide educational opportunities for low-income and disabled Americans.

Ruvalcaba did his cooperative education experiential internship at BKF Engineers in Walnut Creek, where he assisted engineers in plan production and drafted construction details for land development projects usiung AutoCAD, a computer-aided design program for 2-D and 3-D design and drafting.

Ruvalcaba now works for Carlson, Barbee & Gibson, Inc. in San Ramon as a design engineer, a job he landed after attending Pacific's School of Engineering and Computer Science Career Fair in fall 2017.  

Ruvalcaba credits his wife for being his biggest fan and the reason he was able to go to school full time.

"At 40, balancing family and engineering schooling can be challenging," Ruvalcaba said. "There have been multiple occasions where I wanted to give up and I am glad I didn't. My wife and two sons are my driving force and motivation."  

The family connection to Pacific extends beyond his wife and sons. His sister, Gabriela Ruvalcaba '19, is also studying civil engineering at Pacific.

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