story by Dennis Arp '80 / images
by Jeanine Hill
"If you have more of them at home, Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon sometimes jokes with parents, "send them to us."
Well, the Ramirezes of Santa Ana not only have taken Gordon's request to heart; they've pursued it to a quadrangular extreme.
Four children, four students, all first-generation collegians, all sharing the Cal State Fullerton experience, which makes their story unusual enough. But what's more, Imelda, Ruben, Oscar and Elizabeth also are engineers.
They say there was no grand plan to pick the same school or pursue the same major. Still, they wouldn’t have designed things any differently.
"Before we went to Fullerton, we were a close family," says Imelda Ramirez, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in May 2005. "We had our own friends and interests--and we still do. But college has brought us even closer together.
"It’s like it isn't just school time, it’s family time."
As the family trailblazer, Imelda says she quickly found a home in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
"I loved it," Imelda says. "Everyone comes from different backgrounds, but no matter who you are, there's so much support."
Ruben followed Imelda's lead and is one class from a degree in mechanical engineering, steering toward an auto-industry career. Oscar is a junior majoring in civil engineering, with an eye toward architecture. And freshman Elizabeth?
"Since the three of us were in different areas of engineering," Ruben says, "we told her she might as well get a computer design degree."
The Ramirezes have all taken on student leadership roles, with Imelda serving as president of the Society of Women Engineers as well as campus founder of Hermanas Unidas, a Latina student support group. Oscar spearheaded last year's whimsical but weighty Concrete Frisbee design competition.
"What's stirring here is not just the Ramirezes being first-generation college students, aspiring to be in a very difficult major and succeeding," says Raman M. Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, "they go the next step by taking on mentoring and leadership roles. That’s quite unique and quite wonderful."
Adds Lisa Jones, assistant dean for student affairs, "The thing I noticed first was how friendly and personable they are. They greet me by name and shake my hand. They are all eager to make an impression and to take on responsibility."
While Imelda taps her people skills as a sales engineer for Applied Industrial Engineering, she still counsels her studious siblings. But her network of college friends extends well beyond those who sit at her parents' dinner table on Sundays.
"I know I didn't graduate as one person but as a member of a family–and I don't just mean my own," she says. "I went in with a family, but I came out with an even bigger one."