First-generation high school graduate engineers his own success

Rodrigo Guizar Jr. at his high school graduation
(Image credit: Courtesy photo)

Rodrigo Guizar Jr. is ready to change the world.

Growing up, the Yuma, Arizona, resident would cross the border into Mexico almost every weekend to visit his grandparents. He could see that the infrastructure in their village was very different, and it sparked his interest in becoming a civil engineer. "I want to be part of the solution in communities around the world," Guizar said.

His parents did not finish high school, and Guizar was determined to not only graduate but also get accepted to college to study engineering. He joined the College Knowing & Going program led by Education Forward Arizona, and learned how to complete college and scholarship applications. Inspired, Guizar became a student ambassador for the program and assisted his friends and peers with their applications, all while taking dual-enrollment classes.

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Guizar's hard work paid off. On May 26, in front of his excited family and friends, he graduated from Cibola High School. In the fall, he will attend Columbia University in New York City, where he plans to participate in Engineers Without Borders, an organization that works with local partners in all corners of the globe to create sustainable engineering projects. He intends to specialize in hydrology so he can create a reliable and sustainable water infrastructure for the rural Mexican village where his mother was raised and try to tackle the water shortages Arizona is facing.

A familiar face will be waiting for him at Columbia: his older sister Esperanza, who is studying psychology. "She has always been my biggest role model," Guizar told KAWC. "Growing up she never let our situation limit her dreams and her aspirations and I saw that and it inspired me to not let it hinder mine."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.