As Diego Hinojosa, 28, walked through the classroom at Los Altos Academy of Engineering, it was exactly as he had remembered — from the desk arrangements to the science posters and college banners adorning the walls. As the bell rang, the teenagers piled into the room.
The last time Hinojosa was here, he was a student. Now, the Southern California Edison engineer stood at the front of his former engineering technology class to share his experiences with the next generation.
“I wanted to show the students what it’s like to be an engineer,” said Hinojosa, one of several SCE engineers visiting local schools to talk about career opportunities in celebration of National Engineers Week. “I started out where they are now, became a mechanical engineer, and I’m now a project manager at Edison. Being an engineer is about developing technical skills, but it’s also about developing leadership and communication skills.”
The engineering classroom looks like any other with computer desks and whiteboards, but upstairs it is filled with mill equipment and heavy machinery for welding. Students proudly display their battery-powered cars and robotics projects. This is where Hinojosa spent hours building solar cars and designing robots for races and competitions.
“I learned a lot of working skills coming out of high school with this program,” said Hinojosa, who credits the class for teaching him how to apply what he learned in a real working environment and jump-starting his career. “I had manufacturing skills so I could build things and I knew about data acquisition so I could conduct testing and generate reports. I definitely think that gave me an advantage.”
Hinojosa joined SCE as a technician testing electric vehicles and battery technologies after graduating from Los Altos. After earning his mechanical engineering degree from Cal Poly Pomona, he became a project manager at SCE’s Advanced Technology Labs.
“Our program is focused on giving students the opportunity to use the skills they’re learning about, it’s a very hands-on approach,” said Ed Richter, who has helmed the engineering class for 16 years. “The projects are run by students. They're able to apply their technical knowledge and also use their hands to build something real.”
Students are divided into teams and tasked with bringing their projects to life, which involves working out the mechanical details, as well as leading fundraisers, applying for grants and publicizing their ideas.
“Through this class, I learned metalwork. What kid knows how to weld? But I also learned about the math and science behind the things I was creating,” said senior Eric Martinez. “It helped me realize I could pursue engineering.”
Hinojosa and two of his fellow SCE engineers, Julian Ang and Michael Harrington, hope that by visiting Los Altos and sharing their own experiences, they’re able to make engineering professions seem more accessible. The trio also wanted to highlight the innovative projects they’ve been involved with, working on the forefront of technology to increase the reliability of the electrical grid.
“It’s a great example of what can happen when you put the work in,” said sophomore Vicky Zhai. “It shows me that if he can do it, I can do it, too.”
For more information about careers at SCE and Edison International: edisonjobs.com.