May 31, 2018

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom
As newly minted Samueli engineers go off to pursue great things, two class members share their story on how access to educational and financial resources, an engaged support system, and hard work prepared them for graduation and life beyond UCLA.


Karen Ekeruche

Karen Ekeruche

“It got easier as soon as I realized I had to quickly move on from the perception that I wasn’t good enough to be here.” – Karen Ekeruche 18

When Karen Ekeruche transferred to UCLA Samueli from San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif., she wasn’t sure she had the right skillset to make it. Working full-time while attending community college was no easy feat, but Karen still managed to do well in her classes and eventually had her pick of a number of top universities to transfer to.  After several campus tours, she settled on UCLAtaken by UCLA Samueli’s culture, which she pegs as “friendly and quirky.” However, uncertainty over the impending academic rigor still nagged Karen.

“When I first came to UCLA, I felt I needed to study more than my peers to feel comfortable in class. It got easier as soon as I realized I had to quickly move on from the perception that I wasn’t good enough to be here.”

Student support programs such as the Center for Excellence in Engineering Diversity (CEED) and Women in Engineering at UCLA (WE@UCLA) have served as the backbone of her Samueli experience providing scholarships, mentors, and most importantly, a long-term perspective on the benefits of pursuing engineering.

“The professors here have this wonderful ability to just easily switch between teaching to also serving as excellent advisors on academics and future career options.”

Remembering the stunned faces of her classmates in Nigeria when she shared she wanted to be an engineer, Karen humbly admits how far she’s come. “I was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. seven years ago. It has been a long journey of figuring out where I belong, but UCLA was always a safe place to land. At one point, I thought about pursuing law like my grandfather, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I have always liked to build things. Engineering is just me.”

Upon graduation, Karen will join Chevron as a design engineer, working to help her business unit improve safety and reduce operating expenses. But that’s not the end of her story. In her spare time, she works on designing low-cost medical device prototypes to meet the needs of healthcare nonprofits and low-income communities, and plans on working part-time on an MBA degree.

The network of support Karen found at Samueli has been a defining factor both in her career and in seeing the many paths open to her. “The Women in Engineering program was one of my most memorable experiences at UCLA. I have a life-long support system because of this program. The resources here are tremendous.”

Gerardo Franco

Gerardo Franco

“I hit a wall after I transferred. I found myself practically living at Powell Library.”—Gerardo Franco 17, MS ’18

As the first person in his family to graduate college, Gerardo Franco regularly takes stock of the decisions he’s made that have led him to not only walk the stage at Pauley Pavilion this June, but to serve as commencement student speaker.

“My love of astronomy is what got me into science.” Taking refuge at Cerritos College from the rough Norwalk neighborhood he lived in, Gerardo was busy cataloging galaxy clusters when he met Samueli alum David Moreno.

Moreno, who had also attended Cerritos College, was on campus to establish a chapter of the National Society of Professional Engineers. An inquisitive Gerardo struck up a conversation and was inspired when Moreno explained what he does as a mechanical engineer. Gerardo decided it sounded like the right fit for him.

“I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I was an avid tennis player. When senior year rolled around, a lot of friends who I had played matches with were heading off to four-year universities and I wasn’t. Community college was my second chance, but I still needed to select the right path to follow.”

While his hard work paid off and he was accepted into Samueli, the excitement was dampened by perceived cost. To Gerardo, UCLA had always seemed “untouchable” and “too expensive.”

However, within a week he received a letter from the school’s Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity(CEED) program offering various financial aid options and scholarships, and inviting him to participate in CEED BREES, a two-week summer program that prepares transfer students for the fast-paced quarter system.

“I hit a wall after I transferred. I found myself practically living at Powell Library. Luckily, my CEED classmates and my faculty advisor Professor Laurent Pilon (who had been David’s advisor, and is also a first-generation college graduate) gave me the confidence to keep going.”

Not even a year into Samueli as an undergraduate, the UCLA Career Center connected him to a summer internship at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. Gerardo’s interview happened to be during finals week.

“It was nerve-wracking to take time away from studying to interview at a large aerospace company. I asked them if I could reschedule the interview, but they said it was now or never. I decided to move forward.”

The Raytheon team was impressed and after a two-year internship and upon completion of his master’s degree in mechanical engineering this month, he will join the company as a full-time employee working on a NASA Earth Science satellite.

“From my love of astronomy to where I am today. It’s still hard to believe that Raytheon’s database has satellite drawings with my name on it.”

Share this article