Michael A.V. Cruz Has Passion for Mentoring
Hispanic Heritage Month: 2012 Honoree
Michael A. V. Cruz is not used to being thanked for the work he does. Being the humble man he is, he’s never asked for it nor expected it. Besides, he's not in it for the glory.
Cruz, a San Diego native, is a down-to-earth, genuine guy who has been giving of himself, to the community, for decades. And the reason, plain and simple, is this:
He can’t move forward without helping those who've come after him get ahead, too.
"I just had a feeling if you’re successful, you need to look at the young faces behind you and encourage them to do what you do," he said in a recent interview. "I tell them about my experience and how I got here, and what they need to expect. For me, it’s been a long ride.”
A long ride, indeed. Cruz, who is the 2012 Local Hero honoree for Hispanic Heritage Month, has devoted his 30-plus-year career to his passion, engineering. He is the former Director of the Navy Primary Standards Laboratory at North Island and the Naval Air System Command’s (NAVAIR) Chief Metrologist. He is also the first Latino at North Island to hold the highest engineering position at the Navy’s Metrology Laboratory.
But, these achievements didn’t happen overnight. Cruz remembers a time when, as a Mexican-American in the sciences, the odds weren’t in his favor, and discrimination loomed large. Despite this, when he remembers the past, he holds no grudges.
“There were no Hispanics in Engineering in 1970,” recalls Cruz. “Just me and one other. The Navy hired us through a training program, at the lowest possible level and we had to sign a waiver that we were accepting a pay cut to get this promotion. We were brought in at the GS-5 level. White people that came in after us were brought in at the GS-9 level.”
That was then, and today Cruz is grateful for the opportunities that did come his way, and for the changes the Navy has made over the years.
“You couldn’t have disparity like that today,” he observes. “The Navy has made strides in hiring minorities, and I have high praise for them, in doing what they do today. I just happened to be at the tip of the spear, but all my experience after that was very positive. I stuck my nose to the grindstone and eventually became lab director.”
In 1980, the San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) was founded. The organization mentors youth in the fields of science, engineering and math, and Cruz became one of its founding members. Through his involvement, he has been able to motivate countless Hispanic students to pursue careers in science.
Mentoring is very important to Cruz, who owes a lot to one of his mentors, Jesse Macias, another SHPE founding member.
“Jesse Macias taught me his love for working with young people," explains Cruz. “He also taught me how to give without any strings, financially, and through the heart, helping young men and women. When Jesse talked to these kids, he shared his stories and hardships, of picking cantaloupes in the valley, when Mexicans couldn’t go to the swimming pool. He was my mentor and I looked up to him like a second father. He passed away two years ago, and I’m trying to keep his legacy alive, working with the kids. 'You can do it,' I tell them. 'You can be successful like we were.'”
Macias may have sparked Cruz’ interest in helping students, but the commitment to SHPE and the students, comes from within. “I think my motivation comes from being successful in my career and knowing that there are many more young people that can benefit from my experience. In the 1980’s, when I first joined SHPE, minorities were just getting involved in science. I value every opportunity to share my career in the education system, as that has the advantage to make this a better world and society.”
So, how does someone as humble as Cruz feel about being honored with the Local Hero Award? “It was nice to have someone recognize me,” he said. “I appreciate the award, for it allows me to continue to tell my story of how we need to get young people involved in science, engineering and mathematics. That’s the value of the award, and it’s snowballing. I’m getting more recognition each day, as a result.”
Cruz, who is retired, is not ready to slow down. Not anytime soon, anyway. For starters, he is a bike riding enthusiast, with his own website that documents the thousands of miles he’s been clocking riding all across the country. And, he also remains involved with SHPE. He is helping to plan their national conference in November, and is assisting with the development of the website for the local chapter. For him, staying involved with SHPE is a way of giving back for all the opportunities the organization has afforded him in reaching out to youth.
“SHPE is still an integral part of my routine,” he says. “I’m still engaged, mentoring the new leaders of our professional chapter. The SHPE will always be part of my family and I will stay with it as long as I feel useful.”
Which should be a long time by any estimation. For working with youth has made it all worthwhile for Cruz. “The feedback I get from the students that I have worked with is, ‘Hey Mr. Cruz, glad that you nurtured me.’ I recently met a young woman I’d mentored, who's now working for the University of San Diego. Seeing young people become successful, you can’t describe that feeling. You just feel good inside.”
Looking back at all he’s been able to accomplish for his community, Cruz feels good about himself. “A lot of people ask me, 'Why do you do this?'” For Cruz, the answer can be summed up in six words. “Every moment is a teaching moment,” he says.
For a man who is a strong believer in these words, Cruz continues to make good use of all his teaching moments.