Engineering News Winter 2018

The Foundation of It All: Young Engineers

As a well-respected civil engineer just seven years into his civil and geotechnical engineering career, Gabriel J. Alcantar ’08 (B.S. civil engineering) has already helped build high-rises in San Jose and San Francisco and served as the lead field engineer overseeing the fast-track installation of more than 3,000 piles (in just 30 days!) supporting Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers. But it was caring for his community that won him special acclaim last year, the prestigious H.J. Brunnier Award for Outstanding Service to the San Francisco Section of ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers). The award is named after Henry J. Brunnier, a young engineer who helped rebuild San Francisco following the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

For years, Alcantar has been an avid volunteer with a number of outreach programs. He regularly contributes his time at resume writing seminars and mock interview workshops for SCU civil engineering students. He has supported Silicon Valley Education Foundation STEM educational activities, and mentored high school students within the nationally recognized ACE Mentoring Program, helping youngsters identify aspirations while addressing stereotypical obstacles. “When I go out to Mt. Pleasant or Silver Creek High School, whose populations are generally underrepresented in STEM,” he said, “I can show the students a path they may not have thought possible. I can relate to them because I’m no stranger to their community or environment; I grew up there.”

Giving back has always been a passion of his. “My mother has worked in education for over 30 years. She is my role model, an educator who impacts and gives back daily; I only get to do it once a month, but it’s important to me to do as much as I can. I’ll take any opportunity to introduce young students to the possibilities a civil engineering career can offer,” he said.

Recently, he seized upon an ideal opportunity by developing and chairing ASCE San Jose’s Young Member Forum’s Dream Big Outreach Student Program. Through his efforts, more than 700 children, aged 5 through 16, from the Girl Scouts of Northern California, San Francisco 49ers STEM Leadership Institute, and area schools, were treated to a showing of Dream Big, an IMAX film showcasing the wonders of engineering. “The San Francisco Section of ASCE was planning to host a red-carpet premiere of the movie at the Tech Museum of San Jose, but I thought we could do more. My vision was to bring as many kids as possible to Dream Big at zero cost to them. With the help of colleagues and members of ASCE San Jose’s Young Member Forum, we applied for an ASCE national grant and received funding, but that wasn’t the great part,” he said with growing animation. “We created a whole program around the Dream Big premiere, which also coincidently kicked off National Engineers Week. We arranged sessions, coordinated show times, and recruited volunteers months in advance. We had at least one ‘celebrity engineer’ per 10-15 students who talked about engineering and IMAX technology before the show and then answered students’ questions afterward about engineering and Dream Big. The whole experience was really inspiring—not only for the students, but for the volunteers, as well.

“I love my profession,” he continued. “As a civil engineer, you have the opportunity to create monuments, structures, or infrastructure for the next generations. In 30 years, I hope to walk around with my kids and point to buildings or structures and tell them, ‘I helped design that; I helped build that.’ I hope to leave a legacy for them. Something my father taught is very important. He says to me often, ‘You’re an Alcantar; you leave your name wherever you go.’ My father being a man of few words, I understood this to mean ‘know where you come from, leave a lasting impression in this world, and put your best into your work.’ I hope to do just that. I hope to leave my footprint or legacy with good work. In my case, it’s in the foundation where no one can see it, but I know it’s there,” he laughed.

An even less visible but perhaps more lasting foundation Alcantar is cementing is the one within the minds of countless young engineers to come. Alcantar hopes to continue his community outreach through his profession with competence, conscience, and compassion—values he admitted he truly learned at Santa Clara University.

Photo: Courtesy of Gabriel Alcantar