Rafael Alvarez at City College

Rafael Alvarez, Director of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program at San Diego City College.

Shaping Student Success

November 6, 2019 | San Diego Community College District

Anyone wanting to know how Rafael Alvarez is shaping student success need only visit the offices of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program he leads at San Diego City College. Here, a plethora of photographs and testimonials from former students adorn the outside windows.

There’s one from Dalila Robledo, a one-time dropout now studying physics at UC Berkeley. There’s another from Nate Wyley, a two-time dropout who earned an electrical engineering degree from UC Davis. And there’s one from Anne Cardenas, a first-generation college student now studying nanoengineering at UC San Diego.

“I turn on the lights for them,” Alvarez said, “so they can go out and be their best.”

Indeed, Alvarez has been turning on the lights since he founded the City College MESA program, a comprehensive academic support model for STEM students, in 2000.

Local Hero

Raised in the Southeast San Diego community of Encanto, Alvarez earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Harvey Mudd College and his master’s degree in electrical engineering from USC. He was working in the aerospace division of TRW, Inc. in Redondo Beach before switching gears to become an educator at City College in 1994.

Alvarez is known for developing the MESA Program’s “learning culture,” which is characterized by key strategies for effectively approaching the learning and a mindset for learning, with a language that includes self-advocacy, emotional intelligence, mental toughness and goal focus.  All MESA students are empowered with the learning culture to create their own success in higher education and beyond.

The learning culture is a recipe for success and a way of life. MESA alumni have gone on to earn advanced degrees at some of the top universities in the country.


Students First

City College’s MESA program is but one of many San Diego Community College District initiatives shaping student success. The tuition-free San Diego Promise, for example, offers a variety of support services resulting in improved academic achievement. The Preparing Accomplished Transfers to the Humanities (PATH) program is building a stronger pipeline of humanities majors to UC San Diego. The District’s Honors Program provides a more challenging curriculum to help students transition seamlessly to a university of their choice. And a groundbreaking baccalaureate program at Mesa College in health information management graduated its second cohort this past spring.

Aiming High

Alvarez said he sees himself in those he teaches. “I am these kids. Who are they? They’re first generation. They’re financially disadvantaged. They’re from minority communities.”

He is also clear that no challenge is too great to overcome. Success, Alvarez said, is not just earning a piece of paper that is a degree, but the degree in which one uses what they learn.

“We don’t just develop scholars in the MESA program,” he said. “We develop leaders.”

Subscribe to newscenter

Upcoming Events

More Events