Voices of Making Waves: Meet Tony Ayala
Tony Ayala had just been accepted to San Jose State University to study engineering when he found out about the scholarships and coaching offered by Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP.
“It was the cherry on top,” he shared.
“Having people who are very familiar with college resources was something that I really appreciated,” said Tony, who is now a first-generation college graduate having earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from San Jose State in the spring of 2022.
Tony went into college knowing he wanted to major in engineering, saying: “I have always been interested in learning about how bridges are made, how airplanes work, and about construction in general.”
“I didn’t have any relatives or any friends who studied engineering, but I do have a cousin, Manny Gomez, who studied landscape architecture,” he shared.
Manny leads a landscaping company and Tony worked with him over the summers during high school. Through this experience, Tony said he learned about planning tools and design software applications. “Manny would always motivate me and show me how everything works from the ground up,” Tony said.
Engineering a plan to land an internship
During his college career, Tony looked to gain more hands-on engineering experience through internship opportunities. The timing was good since Making Waves’ coaching team was piloting programs around expanded career exploration and development.
“I wanted to be able to learn as much as possible. I wanted to come into an internship prepared,” shared Tony, who brought up his aspirations with his Making Waves college coach, Paola Cadena, who is now the foundation’s senior manager of early career and alumni.
Together, they made the process less intimidating and came up with a plan. They talked through timing and steps needed for the search, application, and interview processes. They brainstormed around different positions within the engineering field and the pros and cons of interning at bigger companies versus smaller companies. They also went through Tony’s resume and other materials and practiced interviewing.
“Those mock interviews really helped me prepare, get comfortable with myself, and make sure I don’t downplay my achievements. I felt confident once it came time to do those actual interviews,” Tony said, who is now glad he started this process well before graduation.
“In the beginning of college, I wasn’t too focused on career development, not because I didn’t want to but because I didn’t have the awareness that it was something important to be thinking about the whole time during college,” Tony shared. “The more prepared you are, the better off you’ll be.”
From internship to graduation to job offer
Through the focus on his career development and teamwork with his college coach, Tony landed an internship at the Walsh Group as a project intern. He gained experience working on multi-million dollar projects and was exposed to areas of work from water to electric to paving.
The internship experience also led to a full-time job offer as a project engineer following his graduation from San Jose State – an offer Tony happily accepted.
“I knew it was a possibility because I had talked about this with my coach,” he shared. “I just focused doing my best and showing the company what I’m capable of. I also think if I wouldn’t have had a coach to push me, I wouldn’t have pushed this all forward so well. She was always excited for me.”
“It was also pretty satisfying to be able to come back to my cousin and be like ‘I’m graduating, and I got this job in engineering,’” Tony added.
As he celebrates his graduation and new job and reflects on his time in college, Tony’s advice for fellow Wave-Makers is: “Enjoy the journey. You’re working towards the goal, which you’ll get to eventually, but appreciate all that comes with the journey. There will be ups and downs here and there, but you’ll get through it.”
This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students, alumni, teachers, coaches, and more members of our Making Waves Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities — and highlights our work in creating educational opportunities that change lives.
ABOUT MAKING WAVES FOUNDATION
With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating more than 1,100 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 500 Wave-Maker alumni.