My Grad Story: Sandbox

2021 graduate george stewart
Rebecca A. Eckland

George Stewart began his journey at TMCC in 2004 after graduating from high school, making his journey to the 2021 commencement stage seventeen years long. During those early years, he didn’t have a clear plan on what he wanted to pursue, so after two years at TMCC, he moved to Southern California where he went to another community college where he almost earned an associate degree before he put his education on pause. “At the time, I didn’t see the value in it,” he admits.

It wasn’t until a serious injury forced Stewart to slow down that education again entered the picture. “I wasn’t sure what to do with my free time, and I was only one semester away from the associate degree,” he said. He finished his associate degree in 2016 and started working at Tesla the following year.

That was when Stewart discovered the Gateway Program, which was a partnership program between Tesla and TMCC. That, he said, was a game-changer because it led him to the Bachelor of Applied Science in Cyber-Physical Manufacturing degree program at TMCC, which he will receive in May 2021.

“So, I’ve had a long history with TMCC, but it has always been positive,” he said.

Invisible Forces and Positive Experiences

Stewart decided to pursue the Bachelor of Applied Science in Cyber-Physical Manufacturing degree after he had been promoted to an engineering position at Tesla. “I really love the job,” he said. “But, I had some concerns whether or not I’d be able to get this job again without the degree. So, job security was the primary contributor to my decision to get a bachelor’s degree.”

Although practical reasons helped Stewart to decide to pursue a four-year degree, what he found in the program was a place where he could learn more about the career that he loves. “Everything I learned at TMCC was absolutely applicable, and that really kept me on board in the program,” he said.

In fact, Stewart calls his Grad Story “Sandbox” because TMCC’s programs have enabled him to experiment with new ideas, processes, and techniques in a safe learning environment. “That’s really been the biggest benefit [of this program] is the ability to go into a safe, no-consequences environment where there are knowledge instructors there to guide you along the way and to make sure what you are doing, you are doing safely. That is so rewarding and so valuable. I hope everybody can recognize that. You get to keep adding tools to your toolbox because of this freedom and this space that TMCC provides,” he said.

Within the program, Stewart would discover that ELM (electrical engineering) classes were his favorite. In these classes, he learned how to wire and how to interpret electrical diagrams. Beyond that, Stewart fostered a special appreciation for the subject of the class. “Electricity is so cool because it’s invisible,” he said. “It almost feels like magic.”

Facing and Overcoming Challenges

It hasn’t always been easy, though. A class on system dynamics challenged Stewart, requiring him to review the class material many times. “That was the silver lining of the situation we’ve been in this past year,” he said. “During the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of free time in the house and that has afforded me the opportunity to re-read chapters for that particular class...because that was definitely the hardest class I’ve ever taken or ever will take.”

Like many TMCC students and graduates, Stewart also faced the challenge of time management. While working full-time at Tesla as an engineer, he has managed to take sixteen credits and pass each class successfully. “It just requires you to compartmentalize,” he said. “I’m grateful for what I have and the sense of security that I can pursue another career in this field [gives me a sense of accomplishment] because I know I have the skills that I will need.

Words of Wisdom

Looking back on his multi-year journey to this degree, Stewart encourages other TMCC students, especially younger ones to realize the value of education. “Every year I talk to high-school students who we recruit [at Tesla], and who also take courses at TMCC. The common piece of feedback has been that students struggle with how to balance,” he said. “I think that’s extremely challenging at 18 years old, but realizing that education should be that priority. Social opportunities are going to come and go, but building that foundation is something that you will have to grow from for the rest of your life, so it’s really important that you recognize and understand the significance and importance of building that foundation.”

To this, he adds an additional insight on the perspective of time. “It took me an extra ten years to get a career that I can see myself doing forever. But if you start now, you won’t have to take that long.”

My Grad Story Series

In this series of stories, we celebrate students who are achieving their degrees and dreams despite the challenges offered by the ongoing pandemic. Starting the week of April 12, the college will share one story each week up until commencement from its inspiring classes of 2020 and 2021.

This series also includes a video interview with participants on our YouTube Channel. Join us in celebrating these incredible stories and graduates as we count down the weeks to our drive-through commencement ceremony that is happening May 17-21.