Home Field Advantage

Alumni Share Bronco and Pomona Pride
by Monica Rodriguez

Jaime Lepe Jr.

Director of Operations, JML Restaurant

Jaime Lepe Jr.

Jaime Lepe (’07, hospitality management) grew up in his parents’ restaurant peeling potatoes and shrimp.

Some might say it was logical that he would pursue a degree that involved the hospitality industry, but Lepe’s career path wasn’t clear when he enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona.

Lepe wasn’t thinking of college when a friend invited him to visit Cal Poly Pomona. The friend was going to apply for admission, Lepe recalls. At the time it was possible to apply, have the application reviewed and be admitted immediately, Lepe says.

So, Lepe applied for admission and walked off campus as a new freshman, but he had no major.

“I didn’t know what they offered,” Lepe says.

Inspired by visits to his father’s tax preparer during tax season, Lepe chose accounting as a major, but the fit wasn’t right. A year into college, someone asked Lepe why he wasn’t in the hospitality management program. The question prompted Lepe to visit The Collins College of Hospitality Management where he made a pleasant discovery.

“This is perfect. I could do this,” Lepe recalls thinking. “I could study the process and the theory and take it back to the family business.”

Lepe immediately switched majors.

After graduating, Lepe took a careful look at his family’s business and determined the menu was fine but the restaurant needed some upgrades. Lepe’s father, the man who opened the restaurant in 1977, was resistant to change.

“We got a lot of push back because my dad is very old school,” Lepe says.

After a year of butting heads with his father, Lepe and his sister hatched a plan to launch a website for the restaurant and paid for it themselves. The website attracted new customers and helped Lepe show his father what the internet could do for the business.

In the nearly 15 years since he graduated, Lepe has modernized operations and implemented changes to give customers an improved pleasing experience and attract new ones. He’s now director of operations for the family’s business, JML Restaurant, which owns and operates Tropical Mexico in Pomona.

“I like to see other restaurants. I like to travel and get ideas and bring them back. If it betters our business why not try it?” Lepe says.

Erica Frausto-Aguado

Executive Director, American Red Cross Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys Chapter

Erica Frausto-AguadoErica Frausto-Aguado (’05, communication) has held different positions since she graduated from Cal Poly Pomona. But it’s her current role as executive director of the American Red Cross Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys Chapter that fulfills a long-time professional goal.

“Even when I was younger, I told myself I wanted to work for a high-profile nonprofit,” Frausto-Aguado says. “The Red Cross brought that humanitarian component. It’s what I was missing.”

Frausto-Aguado, who was born and raised in El Monte, says that when she began attending Cal Poly Pomona, she was excited and looking forward to the future although she didn’t know what would be her major.

She participated in the Educational Opportunity Program’s (EOP) Summer Bridge, which helps incoming first-year students make the transition from high school to college. With the help from EOP and the Career Center, she took stock of her abilities and explored various career options.

“Public relations really stood out to me,” she says. “I’m a people person.”

The field was a good match for her, because she enjoys working with people, with communities and serving as a liaison to bring groups together.

Since graduating, she has worked in municipal government focusing on economic development and has headed chambers of commerce.

As the head of the American Red Cross Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys Chapter, Frausto-Aguado works with local government, community groups and others on several key areas. Among those areas is the Red Cross’ blood services, sharing the importance of blood donations, and responding to and providing support to those who have been victims of a house fire or other crisis. The chapter also prepares and responds to large-scale disasters such as wildfires, as well as provides training for CPR, first aid and emergency preparedness.

Through it all she is spreading a message about the Red Cross.

“The message is the mission to help alleviate human suffering,” Frausto-Aguado says.

Her chapter serves the San Gabriel Valley, including Pomona, where she spends time at least one day a week in the chapter’s office located at the university’s Innovation Village.

Frausto-Aguado says she appreciates serving the vast area the chapter encompasses.

“For me it’s very gratifying to serve the community that helped me,” she says. “It embodies what I believe in an organization.”

Philip Ruiz

Band Director, Diamond Ranch High School

Philip RuizPhilip Ruiz (’97, music) makes sure students understand that music is a resource that can build ties to the community.

“Music here isn’t just about going to Band Camp and getting a trophy,” says Ruiz, the band director at Pomona Unified School District’s Diamond Ranch High School. “Through music you can serve the community and be a face of the school.”

Sharing music and establishing community connections means participating in special events at City Hall or marching in the Pomona Christmas Parade.

For Ruiz, music has always been a love in his life, but making it a career and combining it with education was a journey that started when he was a student at Cal Poly Pomona. At first, he tried majoring in business, engineering and geology before committing to music.

“I went back to music because I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he says.

Education came into the picture around the end of his sophomore year when he began working as a woodwind coach at a local school. He realized that he wanted to teach.

“It was always in the back of my head,” he says. “It became pretty evident that this is something I can do.’”

After graduation, Ruiz returned to Cal Poly Pomona and earned his teaching credential. Later he earned a master’s and doctorate degrees in musicology from Claremont Graduate University.

His first teaching experience was at Servite High School in Anaheim before returning to the Pomona Valley to teach at Diamond Ranch High School in 1999, when the school was only 2 years old.

Coming to a young school was both exciting and challenging.

“You have to establish traditions and have to establish norms,” Ruiz says. “I’m glad I was young.”

Those traditions include recognizing seniors at the last football game of the season, having a senior serve as president of the band and a junior as vice president.

Some norms are tied to competition, such as observing quiet time as the students travel by bus to and from competition. The period of silence en route to competition helps focus the mind, while the silence helps on the way back gives students a chance to gather their thoughts and tempers the mood after competition.

Early in his tenure at Diamond Ranch, Nancy McCracken, the late Pomona Unified school board member, took Ruiz aside.

“She said that next to the sports programs, the music program was the face of the school,” he says.

That cemented what Ruiz already knew about giving back to the community.

Students have performed at the L.A. County Fair representing the Pomona Unified School District and played at employee and volunteer service awards ceremonies.

At the Second Saturday Art Walk, students will perform at some of the Arts Colony galleries. During the holiday season, live performances by four-piece brass quartets add to the celebratory atmosphere in the Arts Colony.

“You can be a contributor as a musician,” he says.

Breanna Haigler

Lean Construction Specialist, Henkels & McCoy

Breanna HaiglerIn the last year of her studies at Cal Poly Pomona, Breanna Haigler (’16, industrial engineering) pictured herself becoming a project manager in the not-too-distant future.

“I saw myself applying problem solving skills for my own project and my own team,” Haigler says.

Life took an early turn for the good and Haigler is now a lean construction specialist at the western region headquarters of Henkels & McCoy in Pomona. The company carries out engineering, design, construction, and utility infrastructure projects across the country.

As a lean construction specialist, Haigler is a problem solver, much like a project manager, but on a larger scale. She identifies problems and develops and implements strategies to resolve issues all while improving processes and making them more efficient.

Her education at Cal Poly Pomona prepared her well for this position. Students take what they learn in class and textbooks and put the knowledge to use in hands-on projects. The College of Engineering has a good reputation, which is one reason why Haigler was drawn to the campus.

“I got into UC Riverside and UC Irvine, but Cal Poly Pomona is a lot more affordable, and the reputation is just as good,” she says.

She was also impressed by the campus’ efforts to attract and welcome women going into engineering.

As a student, Haigler was active in the Society of Women Engineers and served as the student organization’s president during her senior year. She helped lead outreach events and activities for students in elementary, middle school, high school and community college.

For now, Haigler is focusing on her professional responsibilities, but she plans on becoming a member of Women in Construction in the future and resuming her outreach work.

Walter Marquez, Ed.D.

Los Angeles County Fair Association

Walter MarquezAs a student, Walter Marquez (’08, MBA) could visualize himself heading a large organization. The mental picture included something more.

“I wanted to work with a non-profit and give back to the region,” he says.

Marquez is now living that vision. He is the president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, the nonprofit group that puts on the Los Angeles County Fair and operates Fairplex, the county-owned land where the fair takes place.

Previously, Marquez worked in higher education for about two decades, including stints at UC Riverside and Cal Poly Pomona where he was associate vice president of facilities, planning and management. At CPP, he enrolled in the university’s MBA program because it was practical and because the program is supportive of older students and sensitive to the pressures they face.

“They are very understanding of the work, life, education balance when trying to do it all at the same time,” he says.

The graduate school experience was a rich one. When he voiced his desire to work with nonprofits, faculty encouraged him to follow his passion. His interaction with fellow graduate students showed him that he wasn’t alone in juggling multiple responsibilities, he says.

There were opportunities to learn by doing as well as “life lessons learned just by the interactions with your classmates.”

“You get this sense of ‘Hey, I’m not in this life alone. We can do this.’”

As president and CEO of the Fair Association, Marquez leads an organization that serves the public in multiple ways. It is an economic engine with its hotel and opportunities for entrepreneurs. It’s the source of educational programs, such as the Child Development Center at Fairplex and the Career and Technical Education Center where high school students are exposed to career pathways and leave with marketable jobs skills. Fairplex also responds to emergencies by providing shelter for horses and other livestock during massive wildfires or by providing a place for testing and vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Fairplex offers family friendly entertainment, with the centerpiece being the L.A. County Fair.

“We are the presenters of events that are uniquely Southern Californian,” he says.

Aside from overseeing the numerous programs and activities at Fairplex, Marquez does something else.

“The most important aspect of my job is representing Fairplex within the community it serves,” he says.

Ultimately, Marquez is working for a multifaceted non-profit organization.

“Am I glad that I’m in it? Absolutely! I would have it no other way,” he says.

Steve Lustro

Councilmember, Pomona City Council

Steve LustroSteve Lustro was an 8-year-old boy when he helped improve a four-way intersection that had been the scene of several narrowly averted crashes in his Monterey Park neighborhood.

“I put together, with the help of my folks, a petition. It requested the city put up a stop sign on two legs of the intersection,” says Lustro (’93, urban and regional planning). “I think the neighbors were amused by this little kid and signed it.”

City public works officials reviewed the petition, studied the intersection, and found it qualified for a stop sign. The sign was installed, and it remains in place.

That, it could be said, was Lustro’s start into introduction to serving the community. As an adult, Lustro has worked in support of Pomona and neighboring communities as a municipal planner and elected official.

Lustro says Cal Poly Pomona gave him the education to succeed in his career, though he started at Cal State L.A. after high school. He studied part-time and worked part-time for about six years before joining his family’s business, a commercial building maintenance company. He paused his education to work in the family business, then married and moved with his wife to Pomona.

He was nearly 30 when Sharon, his wife, a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, encouraged him to go back to college. He was accepted into Cal Poly Pomona’s urban and regional planning program but postponed his education again when they learned they were expecting their first child.

Two children and more than four years later, Lustro returned to Cal Poly Pomona, juggling work, family and school. Those were tough years, he says, but his wife was steadfast in her support of his academic pursuits.

After earning his degree, Lustro worked for the city of Claremont, first as a code enforcement officer then as a member of the planning department. He then went to Montclair to lead the planning department before becoming director of community development.

Outside of work, Lustro was active in his children’s schools, campaigning for a $62 million general obligation bond measure for the Pomona Unified School District in the early 1990s. In 1997, a group of residents encouraged him to run for the Pomona Unified Board of Education, and he served during two different periods for a combined total of nearly 10 years.

Prior to his election to the school board, Lustro served on the Pomona Planning Commission, a volunteer position that gave him an avenue to have a positive impact on the development that took place in the city. His experience on the commission was a valuable one, he says, and he saw how by keeping an open mind, someone, including himself, could go into a meeting, listen to fellow commissioners or members of the public, and change their mind about a project.

“That was a very valuable lesson to learn and carried over to the School Board and now to the City Council,” he says.

Following his retirement in 2016 from the city of Montclair, he was elected to the District 5 seat of the Pomona City Council in 2018. He’s now planning to run for re-election.

“I tell people the reason I decided to run for City Council is I looked at it as probably a final opportunity for me to give back to the community,” Lustro says.