Ornelas earns CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement

Christopher Ornelas, a first-generation architecture student, was awarded the 2020 CSU Trustees’ Award for his exemplary academic performance on Sept. 22.

The CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement is awarded to 23 California State University students who demonstrate a commitment to their community, financial need, personal achievements and academic excellence. Along with the award, recipients are also awarded scholarships.

Ornelas’ passion for design sprouted from helping his father with do-it-yourself projects — always keeping in mind his father’s advice, “Echandole ganas,” meaning, “Give it your all.” Pursuing his passion has felt overwhelming at times, but his support system has continued to encourage him and remind him of the end goal.

“My dad, my mom, my sister and two other mentors, they would tell me that money is not the problem,” Ornelas said.

(Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski)

Instead, his family and mentors told Ornelas the goal was, “Getting ahead of yourself and creating something for yourself. Pain is temporary but the gains are forever.”

The inspiration for his career began in his high school architecture class. Ornelas recalled, “I was able to gain a broader view of different skill sets, and I started to think about what I wanted to do eventually. So, doing that was intriguing to me and really helped me out.” School was not always easy for Ornelas; his parents immigrated from Mexico to Oxnard, California which gave him the added challenge of bridging the cultural gap.

“Coming from a family who knew a little about English, it was sometimes difficult getting help on my homework,” he said.

Additionally, Ornelas’ parents both worked full time and while he held the desire to better himself and further his education, he took on a caregiving role for his younger siblings. The responsibility included feeding, helping with schoolwork and taking them to medical appointments.

Today, Ornelas continues to dedicate his time tutoring the younger generation in his community who struggle like he used to. Many of the students he tutors come from immigrant parents just as he did.

“In my community, there’s a lot people like me who struggle with math and other subjects and don’t have that freedom at home, so school is a safe place,” he said. “I just wanted to help others like me.”

Ornelas hopes to inspire his younger siblings to succeed and show them that anything is possible. He added, “I want to pave a path for them. My sister already did because she went to UCSD, but I want to show them that it’s not just about UCs, they can go above and beyond that.”

Ornelas is a third-year student and expects to graduate 2023. His supportive community has inspired him to focus on achieving his dreams. He is thankful for the encouragement he has received and is determined to give back to students like him all through his career.

“Eventually, I want to have my own firm and be a mentor to younger architects,” said Ornelas. “I would love to help them out, give them advice and take the path of a mentor. Doing that makes the difference and can impact a person, guiding them in the right direction.”

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