The landscape of higher education is constantly changing, often forcing students to adapt and react to unseen circumstances. Karla Perez knows this firsthand.
A mechanical engineering major at Santa Ana College, Karla was accepted to UC Berkeley during her senior year at Century High School in Santa Ana in 2009.
“One of the scholarships they were going to give me was for about $10,000,” she said. “But there wasn’t enough funding, so I ended up with only about $2,500.”
With the reduction to her scholarship money, Karla couldn’t cover the cost of her dormitory and decided to stay home in Santa Ana.
Attending SAC was the obvious choice.
“Most of my life has been here in Santa Ana,” she explained. “It was local and a lot of my friends were here, so I figured we could support each other.” Everyone here wants to help each other,” she said. “The faculty here wants to get connected with the students, they want to know what’s going on, and try to help you out as much as they can.”
When she joined the campus Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, Karla found a community of students and professors who shared her passion.
Karla’s passion for engineering was sparked in an unlikely place, too.
“I was watching the movie Hellboy, and I like to see behind the scenes,” she said. “I saw that his arm was actually a robotic arm that was controlled backstage. I thought it was pretty cool. Before I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor, I wanted to do everything,” she added,“but that really summed it up for me.”
Mechanical engineers have plenty of career opportunities, and Karla’s seem just as broad. “I want to eventually have my own Vegas-style show, working backstage and do engineering, or work in the film industry doing special effects,” she said.
Hollywood would seem a natural fit for Karla, given her affinity for the arts.
An accomplished violinist, she also serves as an ASG senator representing the Fine and Performing Arts division.
Last December, she was asked to perform a piece with SAC music professor Brian Kehlenbach at the Santa Ana College Foundation’s Pageant of the Trees fundraiser.
The pageant wasn’t the first interaction between Karla and the Foundation. When she applied to transfer this fall, she ran into trouble coming up with application fees.
When they heard about Karla’s troubles, the Foundation stepped in with a grant to cover her expenses.
Karla’s future may be uncertain, but she has a plan. As an AB540 student, her career path might be dictated by the opportunities she has available to her.
If she doesn’t decide to go for her master’s degree and doctorate right away, Karla said she will enter the workforce.
“I’d like to work on prosthetic limbs for soldiers coming back from the war. Either that or get involved with NASA or develop my own toys to send out to third-world countries.”