Graduating Cal State LA student cultivates passion for engineering
The 22-year-old Orange resident will pursue a master’s degree at UC San Diego
By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service
Jonathon Chavez De Rosas fondly remembers spending weekends as a child watching his father work in the construction business.
Father and son would ride together in the family’s brown van to remodeling jobs at high-end homes nestled in the Orange County hillsides.
As “assistant” for the day, a 6-year-old Jonathon would watch mesmerized as his father meticulously stacked wood beams and assembled the pieces to create new rooms from the ground up. He wondered how and why materials were placed a certain way, and how his father knew how to give the structures support and shape.
Many years later, in civil engineering courses at Cal State LA, Chavez De Rosas discovered answers to those questions and realized why he was drawn to his chosen field.
“Those days and the wonder of structures remained in my head, even years after,” Chavez De Rosas wrote in a personal history essay.
The 22-year-old Orange resident will receive a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in May from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology (ECST). In the fall, he’ll begin a structural engineering master’s degree program at UC San Diego.
Chavez De Rosas is the first in his family to earn a college degree. From a young age, he says, he strove to succeed in school to make his parents proud. His mom cleaned houses and his dad worked for a construction firm and on independent remodeling projects to support their six children.
At first, Chavez De Rosas thought he merely stumbled into his major due to an aptitude for math and science and a desire for a productive and lucrative career. But a writing-intensive course for civil engineering majors helped him trace his interest in buildings and structures to those days spent watching his father work.
Faculty at Cal State LA helped engineering come alive for Chavez De Rosas. Adjunct Professor Roy Poomiwatracanont used real project examples from his work as a structural engineer in his class on statics, the study of quantifying forces between bodies or materials.
“He just had a way of making it fun and intriguing,” Chavez De Rosas says.
From there, Chavez De Rosas’ passion for engineering blossomed. He found himself spotting examples of statics and calculating forces while walking around campus. He sought out opportunities to stretch his skills inside the classroom and out.
Chavez De Rosas gained experience as a student volunteer for the Caltrans District 7 Construction Division in Santa Fe Springs, where he helped track the progress of the I-5 expansion project and construction on Firestone Boulevard.
In the summer of 2019, Chavez De Rosas participated in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at UC San Diego, where he worked on research to train an artificial neural network to accurately model heart valve tissue.
During his last year at Cal State LA, Chavez De Rosas assisted Professor Rupa Purasinghe on analyzing building fire simulations to study how fast people would feel smoke and heat effects based on structure and materials.
Whatever the research area or project field, Chavez De Rosas is driven by his appetite for a challenge. “I think in order to be successful in engineering you have to like to tackle a project and a problem and try to solve it,” he says.
His latest challenge has been through the College of ECST’s Capstone Senior Design Program, which aims to provide students with opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge to real industry problems. He and fellow students worked to solve a severe coastal erosion issue on Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County.
Chavez De Rosas served as the structural lead for his team, which proposed a solution that protects the roadway from erosion using secant pile walls. He and his teammates presented their plan to their clients, representatives from Caltrans, via Zoom.
Chavez De Rosas served as president of Cal State LA’s chapter of Chi Epsilon, the national honor society for civil engineering. In that role, he helped plan and host the society’s 32nd Pacific District Conference in fall 2019, which brought 14 chapters from across the region to Cal State LA for networking and professional development.
He is a member of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi and the American Society of Civil Engineers. He also served as captain for Cal State LA’s team for the American Institute of Steel Construction’s Student Steel Bridge Competition.
Through his involvement in these organizations, Chavez De Rosas created a community at Cal State LA. “It turned from a place I would drive every day for classes, to somewhere I wanted to be,” he says.
A Dean’s List student, Chavez De Rosas received a scholarship in 2018-19 from Simpson Strong-Tie, a structural product manufacturing company. He also won second place in the Spring 2016 Public Speaking Showcase hosted by the Department of Communication Studies.
While juggling academic and extracurricular responsibilities, Chavez De Rosas still made time to de-stress with his other passion—music. In high school, he played the drums in a band with his brother. Now, he writes and records his own songs on his laptop, inspired by the musical stylings of indie rock bands.
After earning his master’s degree at UC San Diego, Chavez De Rosas hopes to pursue a career in the structural engineering industry. He wants to focus on the design and analysis of different kinds of buildings and structures. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” he says.
Chavez De Rosas thinks back to those afternoons spent at remodeling job sites gazing up at the expensive homes his father helped create.
One sunny afternoon, he recalls, his father looked down and asked him if he might end up living in one of those houses one day. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I wish. Hopefully—we’ll see,’” Chavez De Rosas says.
Now, when Chavez De Rosas thinks of his future, it’s not the big home he dreams of, but a fulfilling career in engineering and a comfortable life. He hopes to one day design and build his own recording studio, where he can escape to keep making music.