May 11, 2018

Scholar Voices: My Journey from Scholar to Civil Engineer

Trent Casillas Earl Woods Scholar

For a long time, back to my high school days, I remember wanting to become a civil engineer at my dad’s advice. I’ve had my eye on this particular goal in large part because I had a strong desire to help communities by designing and implementing safe civil infrastructure. As an Earl Woods Scholar and with the support of my family, I set my dreams in motion when I was accepted as an engineering student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

When I was in my undergraduate program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, learning the foundations of engineering proved to be a struggle at first. I went from a 4.2 GPA in high school to 2.6 GPA after the first quarter. I failed a course my second year of college and I was close to quitting.

However, I continued and rebounded. By the end of my undergraduate career, I was taking 16-to-17 units a quarter and I was part of the Cal Poly American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter steel bridge team. With my fellow students, we designed, fabricated and assembled a 15-to-18 foot bridge using concepts we learned from the civil engineering curriculum and learned new skills such as welding and machining. We placed 3rd and 8th nationally for two consecutive years out of 250 teams around the country.

ASCE Awards

Before my last quarter at Cal Poly, I was hit by a drunk driver going 35 miles per hour while I was walking down the street, visiting Portland, Oregon. I didn’t allow myself to take leave from college, nor did I allow myself to lessen my class load. While recovering, I suffered with depression and pains from the incident. But I focused on staying on track with my classes in order to not get deterred from graduating on time. I did not want the car accident to be what others remembered about me and still don’t today.

After receiving my Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering, I pursued a graduate degree at UCLA in the same discipline with a focus in geotechnical engineering. The program was very time consuming, detailed oriented and challenging. I had to spend 12-to-14 hours a day studying and working on assignments. But I learned to lean on my professors, Dr. Brandenberg, Dr. Stewart, and Dr. Vucetici for guidance and support.

Growing up and being a first-generation college student, I never thought I would have had the opportunity to attend or even graduate from such a great university, like UCLA.

My educational experience at Cal Poly and UCLA was challenging, to say the least. I had to figure out time management, how to work on a team and learn the importance of the little details in engineering. During that time, I reached out to my family, my Earl Woods Scholar mentor, Aaron Bell, and friends to get through the tough times. My support system helped me keep my eye on my goal: to obtain a professional engineering license.

Trent at Graduation

Additionally, being a part of the American Society of Civil Engineers throughout my educational and professional career has given me an outlet to share what civil engineers do. I have been able to attend conferences in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Seattle and South Carolina. I started the OC Mentorship Program that is still growing and thriving in Orange County, pairing experienced civil engineers with entry level civil engineers as mentors and proteges, respectively. Being around other civil engineers and volunteering and planning events to help promote the profession pushes me to set more goals in life.

In early 2018, I accomplished a longtime goal when I received my professional engineering license for the state of California. The process to becoming licensed consists of going through an ABET certified engineering undergraduate program, obtaining 4 references from licensed civil engineers and taking a national comprehensive exam on a specific field of engineering such as civil, mechanical or chemical and gaining around 2 years work experience in the industry. When licensed, you are able to certify that a set of plans meets design and construction specifications.

I am proud to say that I am the first Earl Woods Scholar to obtain this license. It is extremely rewarding to be able reach a goal I have long wanted with the support of many individuals.

I am thankful to all my previous employers: Coast Transmission, The City of Anaheim, TGR Foundation, Condon Johnson and Associates, Tait and Associates and NMG Geotechnical and my current employer, Brierley Associates, who have helped lead me on a path toward licensure today.

Whatever may happen ahead, I am glad to have reached this far and look forward to accomplishing more to make my family proud. Additionally, I cannot thank TGR Foundation enough for their support in pushing me to achieve my goals and allowing me to attend great events like the Genesis Open as a tee starter!

Trent at the Genesis Open

I may be the first, but I hope that I am setting an example for future scholars to follow. Awareness of various accomplishments within different STEM fields allow elementary, middle and high school kids to learn about the world around them and possibly inspire them to pursue STEM majors in the future.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.