Steps to Success

A ranch-hand, ice cream man, semi-trailer driver, construction worker, and finally foundry worker---these are all the positions my father took on to earn a living, since he did not have the opportunity to complete his education. He was pulled from school to support his 11 younger brothers and sisters when his father passed away.

He instilled in us from a young age the value of an education and the beauty of working hard for your money---mentally instead of physically. At times he would work double or triple shifts, often not sleeping for days to build a nest egg for our education. This dream almost came to a tragic end when a large metal plate fell on top of him at the foundry, nearly killing him and leaving him with major disabilities the rest of his life.

Wanting to make my father proud and live a better life, I was determined to pursue that higher education. Given the family situation, there were no dollars available to support tuition, books, living arrangements, or the many other costs associated with obtaining a degree. That being said, it was vital to keep my grades up in high school, and be active in community and school programs. I was working to position myself for any scholarships or government programs available.

Additionally, I was very fortunate to have an older brother, Lorenzo, who wanted the same and set the foundation for what would be my career in the automotive industry today. You see, Lorenzo wanted to be an engineer, and had heard about a tremendous opportunity at a private institution called General Motors Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering University). This school was at the time privately owned by General Motors and offered an innovative internship program for students. It was and still is a very competitive program, which required not only for your application to be accepted, but also for a student to be “sponsored” by a GM business unit, now open to other corporate sponsors.

Kettering is a perfect combination of work and student life on a super intensive schedule. As a student, you rotate every 3 months between work and school. While at school your course load is heavier given you have less time than a standard school, and while at work you are being paid and rotated through different departments to gain exposure. It is a five year program (5th year thesis) in which you earn your undergraduate degree, but at the end your chances of securing a full time job with your sponsoring unit is close to 100%, given the investment made and the experience gained.

My brother, who is now a successful GM engineer because of this university, motivated me to apply knowing the work rotations would be very helpful in covering tuition fees. Even though I have never had a passion for engineering, I became extremely excited once I discovered I could earn a business degree working with one of the most influential and greatest car companies in the world. I was accepted and sponsored by Oldsmobile Division, and as they say, the rest is history. Reflecting back on my experiences, the MINR insights I would like to share are as follows:

Mentoring is Vital (M). To mentor a young mind forging a new career path, or a more accomplished person needing advice, is an opportunity peppered with benefits. From reflecting and re-educating yourself with your own experiences to observing the success of your protégé or colleagues is food for the soul. Being the protégé helps you to learn the ropes of a complicated business organization. There is no better way than to ask someone you respect to be your mentor. Learning from the mishaps of others is always better than learning them yourself. Additionally, the insight into an organization’s values/norms and discovering the “unwritten” rules will be invaluable to you as you progress through your career. Do not be shy about asking someone to mentor you, as even the biggest of egos love to be validated. A diverse group of mentors will expose you to a bevy of information and advice that could help as you determine your career plan. So, get yourself a mentor or two, ask as many questions as you want, and bring everything you have to everything you do!

Internships Recommended (I). Please take the time to aggressively pursue or recommend an internship with an organization that offers one as soon as you possibly can. The benefits of going into an organization are establishing you as a known commodity, understanding basic operating procedures, and learning how to present yourself in any given situation. You will be at an advantage to those who come fresh out of college.

Networking is Key (N). Expanding the network of people around you is extremely vital for your future as well as your continued development. Leverage every opportunity (internships, community work, school, etc.,) you have to connect with as many people as possible. Almost everyone is willing to explain and share information with a student or with someone outside their field (you are not considered a threat). Offering to help and support activities outside your normal responsibilities expands your exposure and experience, especially when it comes time for hiring. Additionally, it will expose you to different areas of a business or organization that you may have never considered before as a career.

Research Resources (R). Make sure to be aware and leverage all resources and events available to Latinos who are interested in pursuing a college career. You will be amazed by the level and number of support provided by so many different organizations. In fact, Chevrolet just partnered with LATINO Magazine to launch a bilingual website called that helps guide students and their parents in trying to achieve that educational dream. Please take the time to check out the site and forward to any families you know who need help in maneuvering their way to an education for their family.

In closing, I hope my MINR insights will have a major impact, and thank you General Motors for helping my educational dreams come true! Remember that a fulfilling life is one where you follow your passion and your dreams!

Alma Guajardo-Crossley is the Corporate Director of Diversity Initiatives at the General Motors Company.