A Cal Poly civil engineering student from Santa Cruz has received the 2020 California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement — CSU’s highest award for students.
The Outstanding Achievement Awards are presented annually to one student from each of the CSU system’s 23 campuses. The California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the nation, served 482,000 students in 2019-20.
Thayara Almeida, 36, like her counterparts throughout the state, was selected for superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need. As part of the recognition, she will receive a $6,000 Trustees’ Award scholarship.
“I am honored to be one of the CSU Trustees Award recipients,” said the native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who relocated to the U.S. 13 years ago. “I am studying in a field where I see so many students regularly extending themselves above and beyond the parameters of their future career goals that it is difficult to consider anything that one does as outstanding. For me, as an immigrant with English as my second language, I feel privileged for getting this award.”
She and the other awardees will be honored by campus presidents, CSU trustees and donors at a virtual meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Assistant Professor Hani Alzraiee, who teaches construction, described Almeida in a recommendation letter as a “well-disciplined, industrious student” who has “demonstrated great perseverance.”
“I wholeheartedly recommend Thayara as an excellent candidate for CSU Trustees Award Scholarship,” Alzraiee said. “I admire her determination to overcome the hurdles and financial needs she is going through. Winning the CSU Trustees Award will help Thayara continue her journey toward a noble goal: ‘changing her life for the better.’ ”
Almeida left Brazil for the U.S. in 2007, “by myself, seeking a new lifestyle, experience life in a new culture and learn a new language.” She was 23.
She attended Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz for three years and in 2018 transferred to Cal Poly, attracted by the university’s Learn by Doing reputation.
An interest in “playing with puzzles and making structures out of LEGOs” as a girl and building furniture after she grew older led to the realization that “I would love to build places,” she said.
“As a civil engineer, my work will influence where people work, relax, learn and live,” Almeida said. “I will help society become more advanced by adapting infrastructure to meet challenges brought on by new technologies, population growth and climate change. As a civil engineer I know I can work in a range of positions and projects, while being constantly on the move sharing my time between the site, the office and perhaps even different geographical locations.
“I think my ultimate career goal is to design sustainable projects and help them to be built,” she added. “Drawing and signing plans, then sending them out to be built, seeing your ideas come alive, and later, being able to drive past something and say, ‘I was part of that project’ must be one of the best feelings in the world.”
Volunteering in Guatemala on a water systems project, an internship at a Santa Cruz firm working with water system solutions, and work as project engineer for a Washington state construction firm all solidified her career aspirations. She looks forward to taking exams that lead to becoming a Professional Licensed Engineer.
She joins more than 380 students honored with the CSU Trustees’ Award since the scholarship program was established in 1984 by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. In 1999, the foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation Board of Governors and private donors. Each student scholarship bears the name of a donor.
Almeida will graduate in June 2021.
Cal Poly comparative ethnic studies major Miaya-Symone May was a runner-up for the award and will receive a $2,000 CSU scholarship and the $1,000 Herbert E. Collins Scholarship from Cal Poly. Her first quarter was cut short by her single mother’s death from cancer. May was determined to live as she knew her mom would want her to and returned to Cal Poly the following term. She plans to graduate in 2021.
Her education goals include pursuing master’s and doctorate degrees. The first-generation student from the San Fernando Valley hopes to work in the nonprofit sector or at an educational institution, enabling her to do research and play a positive role in peoples’ lives through providing opportunities.