Engineering firm Invests in High School Students

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Assured Engineering Concepts, LLC (AEC) and Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. (CPLC) have formed a partnership that focuses on engaging students in STEM fields and returning a portion of business profits back to the community through CPLC programs. Patrick Ramirez, president and founder of AEC, talks about the partnership.

JOSE CARDENAS: An engineering start-up firm incorporates valley high school students into their day-to-day business operations. Assured Engineering Concepts and Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. CPLC have formed a partnership that focuses on engaging students in stem fields and returning a portion of business profits back to the community through CPLC programs. Joining me to talk about is it Patrick Ramirez, president and founder of Assured Engineering, LLC. Patrick, welcome to "Horizonte."


JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us about the program that you started with CPLC. How did it come about?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: It really came about as I started to think about how to start an engineering firm. We were coming out of a difficult recession and I was thinking of different ways to get the company up and running. And one way I envisioned from the beginning was to have a company located within our community where I grew up. I'm a product of west Phoenix myself. And so I thought perhaps one way would be to partner and to partner with an organization that had as its core and focus also economic development.

JOSE CARDENAS: And your background is as an engineer.

PATRICK RAMIREZ: It is. I went to Arizona State University, finished my engineering degree there, and then I went back east and my wife and I lived a few years and worked out there, and then we came back home.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you just recently got out of the military?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: Absolutely. I've been in the air guard for about 22 years and I was on active duty for the last five years really up until early 2013. And so when I finished up that time, going into 2014, you know, I looked at the landscape of the economy and gave myself a chance to take a hard look at the business plan and decided if I was going to start a firm, it was really a good time. Things were starting to turn around a little bit and so one of the ways that I decided to take a look at capital infusion into the company was to partner with an organization like CPLC who has as part of their core competencies also economic development so I sat with their CEO at the time and their chief development officer. I presented the business plan and asked them if they would be interested through their equity and investment arm to put some capital into the company, take an equity position as a normal investor would so we did. We put it together and that's how we got up and running.

JOSE CARDENAS: How did you decide on the student component? Was that part of your proposal?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: It was not initially. What I wanted to do was really look at how I could bring some employees into the company that could really start to make a difference right up front. We had some ramping up to do. We had just received a contract with Southwest Gas Corporation. And so I looked to the local high school, Metro-tech, which has a wonderful drafting program. The students finished out of their drafting program and they have all the skills that you would get at a high-tech institute or some of the other for-profit schools. These students are ready to go. They have all the skills, they have the cad skills, so I did a presentation to the teacher in the class at Metro Tech. Passed out some blank applications for the company and received back some filled out applications, resumes, and we had our first employee on the cad side, Martin Flores out of Metro Tech.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you've gone through the first batch and they're off to college now.

PATRICK RAMIREZ: Yes, Martin started at ASU this past Monday and he's going to be an architectural student out there. And another in more of an internship scenario applied to and ended up at M.I.T. back in the Boston area.

JOSE CARDENAS: And based on this experience, you've committed your firm to continuing to employ kids not necessarily ones with the same background as the two you hired where they were already kind of headed that direction but kids who would never think of an engineering career?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: That's exactly right. A good example is we have an incoming student that's coming Monday, his name is Cedrick, and he's coming to us via the Arizona College Youth Recourse Program ACYR, an organization in Phoenix that also helps students ages 18 to 24, in that range, who are needing to build some development in the workforce skills, maybe look at different careers and so Cedrick is coming to us, starting on Monday. He'll be doing part time. He's going to go to school in the evenings at Phoenix community college and we're going to put him right into the engineering and operations, give him the full picture.

JOSE CARDENAS: What does that mean? What kinds of experiences do these students have that they wouldn't otherwise get?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: He's going to get a chance to work on the latest drafting programs, these are the programs that our clients use, Southwest Gas, SRP, Cox Communications. He's going to be expected to learn the design of what we do. He's going to get a chance to go out and meet clients with us, go to the field and understand how the field verifications are done. So Cedrick is really going to get from A to Z all the experiences that a young engineer would right out of ASU. A degreed engineer coming to us, I would put them through the same training program. The only difference is we're going to work around his school schedule and give him a chance to make sure that school continues to be a priority. Having said that, though, he's going to have the same requirements that everyone -- he's going to have jobs assigned to him, a level of quality, because in the end, we have to compete in the private market space with other engineering firms who are top notch and we have to make sure we stay sharp and students like Cedrick and Martin and Christian that are able to do that with us just based on the fact that they have a desire on wanting to learn this field.

JOSE CARDENAS: How many other opportunities would students have to work with other engineering firms? I take it yours is fairly unique in terms of your focus?

PATRICK RAMIREZ: I believe it's unique in the sense that we would give them the wide breadth. Other firms have strong internship programs where they may assign a young student to a section and give them a chance to drill down deep. We're such a small company that we don't have that luxury of having a person just fall into one area. Plus, my hope is that in the time that they're with us that they'll get a wide breadth of not only the technical skills, but they're also going to get the softer skills that in my personal opinion are just as important, communication, learning how to write, to speak in front of clients, learning how to put a plan together for a project, and really get a chance to get that wide breadth so when we do get on to college, which is our goal. Our ultimate goal is to watch these students go on to college, when they do go on to college, they're going to be well ahead of many of their peers, not only on the confidence of what they've done but certainly on the communication skills which is what we work on as well.

JOSE CARDENAS: It sounds like you're off to a great start. One is going to M.I.T. and the other to ASU.

PATRICK RAMIREZ: They were tracking on their own careers but it's nice to see them get out and do it.

JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it. And that's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and Arizona PBS. Thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Patrick Ramirez : President and Founder of AEC

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