CLOVIS – In the process of achieving what he once called a dream, Fresno State graduate Antonio Cabrera was recently selected as the new Forest Engineer for the Sierra National Forest.
Antonio is a civil engineer who has been with the Sierra National Forest since 2009.
Originally from Mexico, Antonio worked as a farm laborer in Reedley from 1990 to 1996. When he was later promoted to crew boss it gave him a chance to have more interaction with the owners and supervisors of the farms where he worked, and this motivated him to study English and get his G.E.D. Antonio enrolled in ESL classes in 1997 at Reedley High School and later received his G.E.D in 2002.
Antonio was working 60 hours a week ten hour days and going to school at night and by 2005 he had taken all of the night classes that were available to him at Reedley College. He was at a crossroads, wondering, “do I quit my job stop here and forget about school or do I chase my dream?” After talking it over with his family he decided to switch jobs and began working at a packing house at night so he could resume classes during the day at Reedley College.
By 2007 Antonio transferred to Fresno State to the Engineering Department. When he was about to finish his undergraduate coursework in 2009, Antonio was on campus and noticed students were filtering out of a classroom where there was quite a buzz of activity and enthusiasm due to a presentation made by the Central California Consortium (CCC).
The CCC is an environmental education; minority outreach and recruitment program and serves as a bridge between the USDA Forest Service, under-served areas, and community partners. The mission of the CCC is to diversify the Forest Service workforce by encouraging careers in natural resources, higher education, and employment through mentoring, leadership, and community outreach efforts.
When he asked about the presentation, Antonio was introduced to Jim Oftedal, the Director of the CCC at the time. Since Antonio had been working while going to school it left him literally no time to gain on-the-job experience in his field. In 2010, due to the connection with Jim Oftedal and the CCC, Antonio enrolled as a graduate student at Fresno State University and began an internship with the engineering department on the Sierra National Forest. During this time, many of his classmates were looking for work unsuccessfully and with the downturn in the economy, Antonio felt very lucky to have an opportunity which allowed him to work while also gaining experience as he continued his education.
Antonio’s father always encouraged him to be a good person and instilled a strong work ethic and high standards that remain with Antonio. Antonio believes, “if you put the best of you forward and work hard you will always have a job,” and has clearly emulated this standard in his own life by not accepting the status quo or taking no for an answer, but instead working to find a way to get a project or goal completed even if it takes doubling back and doing more footwork to get to the solution. When Antonio got word that he was selected for the Forest Engineer position his mother was the first person he called and he sweetly told her that it was because of her and his father.
To give back, Antonio is working with Jesus Larralde, Chair of the Civil Engineering Department at Fresno State University, to provide opportunities to students to gain on-the-job experience while assisting with priority projects on the Sierra National Forest. Antonio is currently mentoring Saul Rico, a civil engineering graduate student at Fresno State who is conducting bridge analysis and load rating inventories for the Forest.
“We need help and this gives students a chance to get involved with real work,” Antonio says, and this is the perfect opportunity for Antonio to “do more of what I want to do to help and encourage people in their career.” Antonio’s own Master’s project was to implement the Pavement Management System on the Sierra National Forest, which is a program for improving the quality and performance of paved roads and minimizing costs through good management practices. The assignment took him six months to complete and the Sierra is the only Forest in the Region with a Pavement Management System with the Forest currently working on implementing it at the Regional level.
During the 2014 fire season, Antonio was part of the burned area recovery team or BAER team where he assisted with engineering projects to resolve public safety issues in the aftermath of the French and King fires, such as engineering solutions for unstable slopes in high severity burn areas. On the King Fire, the team Antonio worked with consulted geologists and came up with a solution to save the 11 Pines Road from a real threat and potential for rock slides and debris flows.
“The public’s safety is in your hands and it is critical that you have the knowledge and background to put into practice what you learn in school”.
There is no doubt that Antonio Cabrera fulfilled and continues to have “big dreams” and as Forest Engineer, he is looking forward to working with all of the various departments on the Sierra National Forest and coordinating with Fresno State University and other partners.
When asked of his interests beyond engineering, Antonio was quick to mention how exercise is a big part of his life. He told of his maxim that if you eat healthy, exercise and focus on studies and school you will be able to give a lot back. He has run five half marathons and two marathons, placing fourth for his age category with a 1 hr. 40 min. time. Antonio and his wife Sandra have three daughters, Wendy, 20 years old, Miriam, 16 and Kenya, 11.
The Sierra National Forest congratulates Antonio Cabrera on his new position as Forest Engineer effective Jan. 12, 2015.
(Photo credit USDA)