Middle school math teacher-turned engineering graduate thanks support of family, academic mentors
Kristofer Lee Garcia Cruz was not a typical, fresh out of high school graduate when he enrolled at the University of Guam.
He’s had a career teaching math to middle school and then high school students at two Catholic schools on the island.
In search for another career field that would help him provide for the needs of his young family, Cruz paused his teaching career to return to the UOG campus as a student.
He enrolled in the Civil Engineering Program at the UOG School of Engineering. With his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from UOG, and with math as his major, he felt he had a good foundation.
On Sunday, Cruz was one of almost 250 graduates who received their diplomas at the University of Guam’s 2022 Fanuchånan Commencement at the Calvo Field House.
Not only was it rewarding for Cruz personally, but he also felt a sense of accomplishment that as a math teacher, some of his classmates in the School of Engineering used to be his students when he taught high school and middle school Algebra.
It was coming full circle for him and some of his former students. While still in the engineering program, he said he’d be on the phone some nights with some of his former students-turned classmates as they teamed up on homework.
“It’s funny – they’d actually be the ones helping me,” he said. One of the students he taught as a middle school math teacher graduated with him on Sunday from the same Civil Engineering Program.
While he was working to complete the program, he also took on a new job at the Guam Power Authority. GPA allowed him to make up for the times he was in class for weekend responsibilities at the power agency, he said.
Cruz’s academic achievement was also made possible in large part with the support of his wife Miyu Cruz, who paused her own career pursuits and stayed home to take care of their household with their three young kids Mia, Lia and Ryua – while he was finishing school and working at GPA.
“My wife said, ‘I'll take the responsibility in the house; you don't have to worry about the kids,'" he said, in part. “When I graduated as a teacher … I felt like that was just for myself, but this engineering career, I felt it was for them – for my family,” Cruz said.
And behind the academic achievements of students, there often are specific educators who mentored them on their journeys.
Cruz gives special credit to two professors: Dr. Ujwalkumar D. Patil, Associate Professor, Civil and Geotechnical Engineering; and Dr. Jeffrey Cheng, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Water and Environmental.
“These are the faculty that helped me succeed in the UOG School of Engineering, Civil Engineering Program,” Cruz said. “They were diligent and understanding professors, but at the same time, always challenged me to be a better student and future civil engineer.”
Dr. Patil said there are no special considerations for students who also hold jobs or are UOG returnees.
Those who hold jobs and are studying at the same time have to put more effort into passing courses and making sure they make time to attend classes, which are mostly during daytime, Dr. Patil said.
The School of Engineering does identify which students need guidance to stay on track.
“We do identify such students and talk to them and make sure that they stay focused on their target and make sure they know that engineering studies need a lot of commitment and hard work, but it is all worth it in the end,” he added. “Kris Cruz is an exceptional student who was able to manage working outside plus completing his courses at School of Engineering,” he added.