LOS ANGELES - Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District recognizes Hispanic Americans for their contributions to the Army and the nation during National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

This year's theme, "Honoring Hispanic Americans: Essential to the Blueprint of Our Nation" highlighted their impact and those contributions.

Gustavo Menezes, a professor in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, or ECST, at California State University, Los Angeles, was the guest speaker during the Sept. 19 observance at the Corps' LA District Headquarters in downtown LA.

Cal State LA is located in East Los Angeles, where, according to Menezes, the community is 96 percent Hispanic or Latino. About 70 percent of the students at the college are Hispanic and first-generation college students.

To give students more of an advantage of becoming college graduates, the team in the engineering college created a program called First Year Experience program, or FYrE.

The old mindset of thinking, Menezes said, was "Our students are not college ready."

"The difficulty was changing the mindset," he said. "The FYrE/ECST College's vision is changing the mindset, which is now 'our college is not student ready.'"

The FYrE Model to academic success includes preparation, support, grit and attitude, planning and quality instruction.

Since the inception of the FYrE Model, the students' feedback has been very positive, Menezes said, and now, Cal State LA is No. 1 in the nation in social mobility, with the most number of students moving from the bottom 20 percent to the top 20 percent, which Menezes said he is very proud of.

"ECST focuses on being the best possible place for our students to attain their education and go on to succeed in life, personally and professionally," he said.

Menezes also explained different ways the Corps can help Cal State LA students, which include:
• Continuing to promote Hispanic and Latinos as a critical importance to the nation;
• Providing training opportunities with the Corps;
• Recruiting students from the Cal State LA campus;
• Visiting and giving presentations at the college campus; and,
• Keeping the college informed of available opportunities with the Corps.

One way the Corps' LA District is already involved in helping Cal State LA students is through a mutual partnership agreement the District signed with the College of ECST in July 2018. The agreement promises to enhance opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, education and career paths.

Recognizing the need for a workforce comprised of diverse, high-performing individuals with STEM skills, the agreement identified actions that can provide students and recent graduates with employment opportunities, including establishing a list of volunteer professionals within the Corps to support mentoring needs at the college; conducting site visits to Corps' facilities; and raising awareness about the Corps and its Pathways internship program.

Three Cal State LA graduates are currently in the internship program with the Corps' LA District. After rotating through different sections of the District, interns typically develop a passion for a certain discipline and are hired directly into a position when their internship ends.