Life’s a Ride
A good teacher can be the difference between a great year and a not-so-great one. This is the tried-and-true knowledge that every student understands.
In this week’s letter, 23-year-old Nathan Alvarez reflects on the path, people, and programs that encouraged his career in science. Since finding his true north, a fascination with the world of engineering, Nathan has made the jump from the playgrounds of Montecito Union and the labs of Dos Pueblos High School to a position as a quality engineer at the transport tech company Virgin Hyperloop. With his appreciation and perspective on the education-to-career leap, Nathan has become a mentor at the Santa Barbara Mission Scholars program to help support the next generation of students.
It all started with a trip to Magic Mountain in 5th grade.
I clearly remember thinking about how much fun the roller coasters were and then imagining how I would design my own perfect ride. When I searched what professions design roller coasters, I quickly became convinced that I was going to become an engineer. Once I made up my mind, I never looked back.
Knowing what I wanted to do, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy was a natural progression, and I joined at the beginning of high school. The program showed me what engineering really was (beyond the scope of just roller coasters), and it taught me how all the math and science I had learned could be applied to actual projects. I learned all the fundamental skills I needed to be a successful engineer both in college and now in the professional world. From hard skills such as computer-aided design, machining, coding, electrical assembly, and prototyping, to soft skills such as design thinking, problem-solving, and project management.
I realized how many different types of engineering exist, and I started understanding what a life in each discipline would look like. Ultimately, I found myself most drawn to mechanical engineering and studied this for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at USC.
I arrived at USC feeling a bit nervous, but mostly excited. Starting college was such a fun experience because I had no idea what to expect. I heard so many things about what I should do, how I should spend my time, and what I should focus on, and suddenly it was time to begin carving out my own journey. It was tricky at times knowing what to prioritize, but the knowledge I’d picked up in high school allowed me to feel confident in my academics and learn to balance the extracurriculars that are essential to the college experience.
The Engineering Academy at DP was not only a launching pad to college, but also to my career. During college, I interned at several companies here in town, including Enerpro Inc. and Northrop Grumman, both connections facilitated by my time in the DPEA. Today, I work at Virgin Hyperloop, a company aiming to develop a new form of ultra-efficient transportation. The concept of the “vactrain,” a transport that minimizes drag and friction, was something I became interested in about eight years ago, when Elon Musk first introduced it. It’s been a great project to be a part of, especially at such a small company where my role is not constrained to only one part of the development. This technology has incredible potential, and I’m excited to see it come to fruition.
Outside of beginning my career, I try to stay involved with my interests after work and on the weekends. Snowboarding, surfing, and marine conservation are all important to me, but recently I’ve been most proud to become a mentor in the Santa Barbara Mission Scholars program. This program helps support low-income students in Santa Barbara by offering guidance on college and career matters. As a mentor, I check in with the student I’m paired with and offer advice where I can. My mentee not only also went through the DPEA, but is now studying mechanical engineering in college, which is cool because it means we’ve had a lot of the same classes and questions. Volunteering as a mentor is incredibly rewarding, and I highly recommend checking the program out!
The amazing teachers who taught me and are now teaching the next generation have meant so much to me, and I’d like to shout out all my K-12 teachers. I couldn’t have made it to where I am today without them. And, of course, a special thank you to all my MUS teachers for giving me such a great foundation to build upon; Ms. McMahon, Gonzales, Dunn, Craine, Walpole, and Bachman — you’re the best! Santa Barbara’s such a special place, and I’m so fortunate to know that no matter where life takes me, I’ll always be able to call this town and community home.
P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org!