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Pushing His Limits

As a first generation college student, Diego Rivera’s goal at Cal Poly, he said, was to simply try his best.

As a freshman, he had no plans to achieve straight A’s through college or get a fellowship to continue his graduate studies at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Rivera, who has worked through college to pay for his education, is headed to MIT, and he has only one last quarter of perfection to land a rare 4.0 GPA.

“Of course, it is still a goal for me to finish my undergraduate education with a 4.0 – because why not?” said the civil engineering senior. “But I wouldn’t say that is my primary motivation in earning those grades. Rather, I genuinely enjoy learning and I want to be the best that I can be in whatever field I study.”

Rivera recently discovered that he is one of three students nationwide to receive a $10,000 Thornton Tomasetti Foundation National 2019-2020 Scholarship for exceptional academic success – money that will help him at MIT.

“I actually found out over the phone and was left smiling for a couple of hours afterward,” he said.

Growing up in Los Osos, CA, Rivera was good at math and science, so civil and structural engineering seemed like a good fit.

“I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to make physical and long-lasting impacts on the communities around me,” he said.

As he progressed through Cal Poly, he developed a better appreciation for architecture and the built environment, and he saw structural engineering as an outlet to combine his engineering background with some architectural ideals.

Diego Rivera, a civil engineering major, has earned a 4.0 through college. He will attend graduate school at MIT with a full-tuition fellowship.While earning straight A’s, he has also held part-time jobs during the school year and full-time work during summers to avoid having to take out school loans. Some of that entailed working at his family’s restaurant, The Hungry Fisherman, in Morro Bay, and working as a structural AutoCAD technician with H.F. Mager, Inc., a structural engineering firm in San Luis Obispo.

“This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern for Strandberg Engineering in San Francisco – a big step in my structural engineering career,” Rivera said.

His fellowship at MIT, is a full-tuition one. But the Tomasetti scholarship will pay for housing, books, supplies and school-related fees.

“MIT has always been a school I was interested in, but it always seemed like a ‘dream school,’” he said.

After his graduate studies, he hopes to work at a leading design firm and contribute to innovation in the structural engineering field.

“Ambitious goals for a young engineer, I know,” he said. “But I have surpassed what I thought I was capable of already and would like to keep pushing my limits.”


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