Hear from the Director of Programs in Engineering Student Services, Marvin Lopez as he tells his stories of resilience and how he uses those stories to support our current students in this week’s The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer.
LAURA VOGT: Welcome to The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I’m Laura Vogt, the communications and events manager for Engineering Student Services, and this week we’re really excited to have our director of programs for Engineering Student Services, Marvin Lopez. Marvin, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background.
MARVIN LOPEZ: Good morning everyone. So my name is Marvin Lopez and I am director of student programs at engineering student services and I am delighted First of all to be part of the podcast and part of the not so secret guide and be able to share my story and a little bit about my background and what I’ve gone through to get here. So going back to my college days, I started in the corporate world, so I have an engineering background from UCLA, I’ve got a CSC background, the equivalent of our EECS degree here, and started as an engineer and as a programmer. Actually at one time some people laugh at some of the languages that I’ve used but I was a programmer at one time. But along the way I realized that I had a passion for discovering and developing talent and in particular university talent. I found this passion as I was managing different systems and recruiting for the different systems and different divisions. And so I got deeper and deeper into the recruiting world and further away from true technology world and so I migrated out of software development into management and ultimately into recruiting and at the same time diversity programs. I got involved in both internal diversity programs and in the companies or companies that have been in things like employee resource groups, diversity council, and external efforts, like sponsoring MESA and some of the programs that I now run here. So over the years I realized that I had this passion and went into the recruiting world and got very involved out on campus working closely with actually here at UC Berkeley/UCLA/San Jose State. And after a while of doing the corporate thing I realized that then I did a stint at a startup. I realized that you know I’ve kind of been there done that and this role opened up and people reach out to me that said, hey there’s something right up your alley you might be interested, threw my name in the hat, and here I am. So very excited because I never thought I would actually be on campus as much as I thought. It sounded interesting but I love it. I enjoyed it and it’s a great the greatest job I’ve ever had.
LAURA: Fantastic and we’re so glad that we have you here. This week our theme is we’re talking about resilience so we actually have the momentum speaker series that we did last week. And we’re excited that we had five students come and present with us. And so we wanted to delve a little bit further into it and tell another experience of resilience that I think students can relate to and understand and I understand that you have one of those kind of stories.
MARVIN: So I have an interesting story and I think fundamentally, my story is one that is not linear, and I think the path to “Success” or the path to being happy in what you do is never necessarily linear. It can be. Some people do go to the linear path and that’s OK. But a lot of us and most of us don’t. And my path is one of those that is not very linear. Two there’s two key moments that stand out in my life that really speak to adversity that had me to deal with adversity. One is when the Dean of Student Affairs, sort of, I forget what it’s called at UCLA but the equivalent of the Dean of Student Affairs had me in his office and told me, Marvin tell me why we shouldn’t dismiss you. And I thought OK. It’s funny because you know 30 years later it’s stuck in my head. So clearly I could you know that takes me back immediately sitting there like a five year old in front of the Dean, having to explain why you shouldn’t dismiss me. So I you know I explain why and what had happened and what I would do forward and so forth, and you know he didn’t dismiss me and you know I finished my career and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.
But the other is, so going forward, I guess 20 years from then, you know, I did graduate I went on to a professional career and my company or the company that I’d been with for 19 years where I thought I would retire after a while you think 19 years, you know another 19 I’m good to go, and same kind of thing my boss brought me in and said unfortunately Marvin, we have we decided to eliminate your job along with the whole team. You know so please notify your team first and then we’ll deal with your position.
So not only do I have to lay them off, but I had I had to get myself laid off as well. So you know two jolting completely different times and places but two very jolting events in my life. So thinking back to the two situations and what happened and actually when and how I dealt with it. I think that three things that I did that got me through that and and got me to this day, one is attribution. So one thing I didn’t do and I think that that’s critical when it when it comes to dealing with adversity is blaming anyone it doesn’t help any. Right. I didn’t blame anybody even myself because blaming and in and of itself doesn’t help you move forward. it’s an act that feels productive but isn’t. In the end it doesn’t get you anything, even if it’s yourself. And there were things that I did from my college days that, you know, perhaps I shouldn’t have done, bad decisions I made, social opportunities that I took to too much advantage of, shall we say that, in the end blaming didn’t help me and it didn’t help me go forward. And certainly the layoff, blaming the company, blaming my boss, blaming anybody, didn’t help me. You know the point was, where do I go from here. So I was glad that I had the wisdom. However I got that not to blame. And I think attribution was not going to help me any. The other thing I did is not look back and not look back in the sense of what you know what was different what happened. But in the sense of you know, should have, and could have. Right. To me those are the two of the most useless words in the English language, because they’re contractions but whatever. And that you know what I should have been could have done at that point.
It serves no purpose. Right. And I think usually they serve no purpose because it’s too late. And then the other thing I did is reach out, reach out to not only people and resources you know official resources, and and organizations, and programs, but people you know, the network, the proverbial network, that would you know, guide me support me, and in particular you know, open doors to other possibilities. To look at what things are not, how things work, how things could be, and ultimately hold me accountable. So you know, in the end you know, I had to take steps going forward, and tried reaching out to others. They held me accountable to the plan that I laid out whether it was to graduate and complete my degree, or find the next opportunity in the industry. And I think those three things helped me get through it, to this day.
LAURA: what you take with you when you go forward, how do you try to share this information with students.
MARVIN: You know I often see students that struggle… all adversity comes in many shapes right, many shapes many forms and also doesn’t just come once. That’s the other thing, it doesn’t just happen once. You’ve done it and you take a box and you’re done. It’s a process and a journey that you know. For many students for many of us it’s never done. Sometimes it is. sometimes it isn’t. And I notice that a lot of students you know that have faced adversity, for whatever reason, whether it’s systemic adversity, just from where they come from, the background, the resources, the advantages that they have or haven’t had, or adversity here in terms of the classes they take, their peers, the climate, they get caught up in this cycle of of of blaming of Who’s fault is it. And do I have the confidence to get through it. And so I think when I hear that, I let them know that I share my story that you know if I got through this, and they did that, and I know for a fact that these students are far smarter than I am, I know for a fact that I would never get into engineering today, that if I got through it, they can get through it. And it’s all about moving forward, they need to, you know, look within, not just within themselves, within their environment, within the programs. We have here, their peers, advisors, that there’s an entire family of support that they can reach out to to move forward, and overcome whatever it is that they have to face, because ultimately it’s, you know, it takes a village. It does take a village the proverbial village to raise a child. It does take a village to get through the challenges that we all face. And if they reach out and take advantage of the resources, they can get through it too. And so I share that story, you know, as much as I can with individuals. And I know that, you know, it’s had, you know, a resonance with a lot of students.
LAURA: One of the things that we talk about often is what resources do we have for the students to help them, so maybe not even that they have to deal with the resilience. Maybe we can get them (help) before they get to a point.
MARVIN: Exactly. And I think it is being prepared, and accept that they will face adversity, that their journey here, and most journeys here, are not linear. I think fortunately it happens on our campus and many campuses (especially) top schools. There’s a lot of bluffing, to some extent,, to students that want to portray their story in a very linear, you know, stepwise successful path that isn’t really true. You know we know for a fact that is not true very often. And so there’s a lot of bluffing with, you know, with each other that that fact isn’t there. I think to prepare them that they will face adversity and that perhaps their peers who think they have it all together, may not necessarily have it together. If they’re ready for that. I think that then we can preclude all of these issues. But you know sometimes you can’t avoid it. And so having the wherewithal to know where to reach out how to reach out and in particular the comfort level of reaching out is what will get them through the whatever challenges they may face.
LAURA: And one of the great places for our students to start with if they’re looking for information is to go to our website which is engineering.berkeley.edu/ess and you’ll find information there about programs that we have, the advisers. We’ve got Christine from the tang center that actually comes up here a couple of days a week. We have plenty of resources and we want to take advantage of them that’s why we have them.
MARVIN: And I think we want to remind them that the greatest resource they have is, besides themselves, ultimately is their peers. No one can get them through better than, through whatever they’re facing, than their peers, because more likely their peers are facing the same adversity, have faced the same adversity, or at least can relate the most to what they’re facing, and reaching out to their peers, and being honest and open and vulnerable is enormously powerful. You know, when when I faced my challenges in college and in the professional world it was my peers that got me through. So, you know, we had the same programs at UCLA that we have here now. In fact, I run similar programs to what they got me through school. But ultimately the people who got me through my peers, one of whom is works here on campus. And that’s what got me through is reaching out, and having the guidance, and listening to their guidance, and having them hold me accountable to whatever plan that I created to go forward. And on
the industry side, after my layoff, same thing, I’m reaching out to my friends in various organizations, or just friends in general, that had gone through similar situations, and can hold me accountable and support me. That’s what got me through. And I think without that I’d I just I literally would not be here today.
LAURA: So now as we get ready to wrap up, is there anything else that you wanted to add that you didn’t get a chance or any other final thoughts?
MARVIN: You know, the only thing I would say in terms of adversity, and being resilient is believe that that you can make it, you know confidence is the one thing that I see that falls apart. You know, that’s the first thing that goes when you face resilience, the belief that you belong in wherever is that you’re in. You know, that was my first thought when I got laid off that, oh my god after 19 years I guess I don’t belong here anymore. I guess they don’t want me anymore. I’m not good enough. And it’s not the case, that things happen completely outside the controls, and most of the time. Other times it is within your control. But ultimately if you’re confident and believe that you belong wherever it is that you belong that you want to be, you can make it happen. And it’s all about moving forward. You cannot look back. You can’t look down. You can only look up and forward. Reach out, connect, and you can do it. I did it, it worked out. And and I have no doubt that our students can do it as well.
LAURA: Well thank you so much for taking the time to come, and talk to us today and sharing your story and I know other people are going to appreciate it.
MARVIN: It’s my pleasure. That’s why I came here to, you know, to do what other people did for me many years ago ago. Thank you for the opportunity.
LAURA: And thank you everyone for tuning in to The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer.