photo of Andrea Mosqueda Gonzalez

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You’d think navigating a rugged inner-city hometown every day for 18 years, earning valedictorian status at your high school, and unlocking a door to the wider world in the form of a scholarship to Stanford University would be the hard part.

That seems like challenge enough, right?

But for Andrea Mosqueda Gonzalez, all that was just the prologue. When she arrived at Stanford for her first quarter, she found it wasn’t the destination she expected but rather the start of another – even more difficult – journey.

“I didn’t really feel like there was anyone quite like me there, from a background like mine,” said Mosqueda Gonzalez. “I’m sure there were, and there probably were resources for people like me, but I didn’t take advantage of them because I didn’t really know they existed. So in that first quarter I struggled.”

The stress and strain finally boiled over one day during midterms. Mosqueda Gonzalez biked across campus to her physics exam. But she got caught in a downpour. Cold and soaked with rain, she walked into the class only to find she’d left her calculator at her dorm.

“I broke down,” Mosqueda Gonzalez said. “Like I was ugly crying.

“I wasn’t sure if I would make it. But obviously, I wasn’t going to give up after only five weeks, so I kept with it.

“Eventually I did find a lot of enjoyment. I made good friends. I started participating in extracurricular activities, which were a lot of fun, and it got better.”

Mosqueda Gonzalez made it through Stanford. She even went back to school for a master’s degree two years later at Cal State Long Beach. Now she works as a project engineer for Ardurra in San Jose. She serves as the ASCE San Francisco Section vice president, after helping lead the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum’s annual Engineers Week outreach efforts for two years. She’s been heavily involved for years as a volunteer with the Rotary Club.

And ASCE has honored her as a 2024 New Face of Civil Engineering.

Mosqueda Gonzalez recently spoke with Civil Engineering Source about her career.

photo of Andrea Mosqueda Gonzalez

Civil Engineering Source: What’s the accomplishment or aspect of your career that you’re most proud of so far?

Andrea Mosqueda Gonzalez: It would have to be finishing my engineering degree as a first-generation college student. I didn’t really know how hard it would be to one, go to college, but then, two, to obtain an engineering degree in four years at an institution like Stanford – it was just really difficult.

I didn’t really have help in terms of navigating college. I didn’t know what office hours were. I was also working sometimes as many as 30 hours a week while still being enrolled full time, so my grades suffered. I was on academic probation my senior year.

I faced a lot of trials and tribulations, but I was able to finish and, at the end of the day, I think that’s what was most important. Getting my degree is definitely what I’m most proud of right now.

Source: Can you talk more about looking for other people at Stanford from a similar background? What was that like? And how would you describe your background, where you grew up?

Mosqueda Gonzalez: I grew up in Gardena, California. It’s a small city, just about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

I attended inner-city schools, the type of school where more kids drop out than graduate. An even smaller group of students go off to college, let alone to the Ivy League or a school like Stanford. 

People physically didn’t look like me. I can’t tell you what the demographics were, but there were definitely fewer Latinos at Stanford than in my hometown, and in engineering, although there was a good group of women in our classes, there certainly was not a lot of Latinas.

But I think more than that, my socioeconomic upbringing was different. I remember in the first couple weeks when I was meeting a lot of people, the questions that always arose were, “So what does your mother do?” And at that point, I think my mom was working at an elementary school as a cafeteria aide.

“What does your father do?”

And I don’t have a relationship with my father, right?

So, those weren’t the typical responses I would hear from others. I was raised by a single mother and so having to figure out how to answer those questions without making it look like, you know, the “Oh, poor me” sob story, it wasn’t easy.

I did kind of feel alone in that regard. Maybe I was scared to make friends with people who were so different than me. I don’t know. But I did find my community eventually.

Source: Your mother [Silvia Beltran] came to the United States from Mexico and raised four children essentially on her own. When you think back upon her life and your own childhood, how meaningful is it for you to see how successful you’ve become and give back to the community with your outreach work?

Mosqueda Gonzalez: I actually had the opportunity to travel to Mexico over the holiday break and it was the first time I was able to see the conditions in which my mom grew up [in Durango].

I was able to see the opportunities, or the lack thereof, that would have been available to her – and eventually me – had she not migrated to the U.S. It made me feel just that much prouder and more amazed at her for doing what she did. And then to go on and raise four successful children with no help; it kind of leaves me without words.

She did the hard part. All I had to do was go to school. So, she and I are both very proud of my successes because we did it together.

When she had me, she was scared, because I don’t think that she was prepared to have another kid in the situation that she was in. But she always says that I’m her biggest blessing because of what I have been able to achieve, going on to college and becoming an engineer.

It was very difficult for her to raise me on her own. She had to put work before a lot of things – birthdays, holidays. My mom worked like 12-hour days, six days a week.

I have older siblings, almost 20 years older than me, Gabriela and Osvaldo Sicairos. They played a huge part in raising me and my sister Nitzia. Gabriela was almost like a second mom.

They gave me everything they could to succeed, and now it’s kind of my turn to give back to the world. The world has given me so much: a strong, hard-working mother, access to the best education, good health. So whether it’s through my K-through-12 outreach or through the various volunteering opportunities, I find it as a way for me to kind of restore balance.

Source: As you look at your career going forward, what impact do you hope to leave on the profession?

Mosqueda Gonzalez: I want to retire seeing more people like myself entering and excelling in this profession. I want to see more children of immigrants, more women of color in engineering.

I think it is sometimes seen as an unattainable career. And I think the first step of college can definitely be unattainable, simply due to the prohibitive costs.

But I think through ASCE, I’ve been able to show students from backgrounds similar to mine that a career in civil engineering is possible. I’ve tried to show them resources, scholarships, and mentoring that can help them not only get into college but graduate.

I think that’s the impact I want to leave. I mean, yes, excelling in the profession and in my designs, would be great and it’d be cool to have my name on a bridge. But I think more importantly, I see what the demographics of the industry look like today, and I want to change them.

When I leave, I want there to be 50% women and, ideally, whatever the demographics are in society, I want that accurately represented in our profession. Across the board – from entry-level to principals to owners and directors of the public works.

I know that through my work with ASCE, I’m chipping away and trying to get to that goal.