Meet Luz Rivas, STEM Education Advocate and Candidate for State Assembly District 39

For many, Luz is the light of the San Fernando Valley. Her story fully embodies those 19th century Horatio Alger Jr., rags-to-riches stories about impoverished white American males confronting the white patriarchal class structure and achieving financial, material, and social acceptance. However, Luz is a Mexican-American woman and was the first in her family to attend college. Her own journey as a first generation college student illustrates why she’s devoted to the scholastic advancement for California students, so that they can get on a similar path to success.

Currently, Luz is embracing a new challenge, running for public office in the California Assembly seeking to represent the 39th District. This district represents San Fernando, Pacoima, Sylmar, Sunland-Tujunga, Sun Valley, North Hollywood, Mission Hills, Lake View Terrace, and Arleta. And true to her nature, Luz has thoroughly prepared herself for the monumental task ahead of her.

While she recently served as the City of Los Angeles Public Works Commissioner from October 2016 to December 2017, Luz focused on her gender equity work. She began by leading a recruitment initiative for women engineers in Public Works by challenging groups like the Society of Women Engineers to increase their membership rolls. Luz then poured her energy into public events encouraging women-owned businesses to compete for city contracts. As a result of her efforts and successes, Luz gained the public admiration of her peers within the City of Los Angeles. Armed with that experience and peer support Luz has set her sights even higher, fully aware that access to opportunities and the workflow process are what she needed to advance academically and professionally.

When she was a small child, Luz carefully observed her single mother systematically advance herself from working as a cleaning lady in a hospital. Her mother took the time to attend night classes to improve her English language skills and learn office skills. These efforts led to a clerical position paying better wages. Her mother’s actions confirmed in Luz’s young mind that all things are possible with a plan and the goal of always moving forward utilizing workflow processes.

As a ten-year-old at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, Luz was fortunate enough to have been introduced to an Apple IIe computer by her fifth-grade teacher. This was a pinnacle moment in her life. This early experience with technology lit a fire in Luz to continue to study math, engineering, and technology.

“That experience of getting on a computer and learning about computer programming was fun for me. It really is what led me down a path of pursuing engineering,” Luz said.

When she was a senior at San Fernando High School, Luz was admitted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At first, she was reluctant to leave her comfort zone in the Valley and the cost of attending college across the country was a concern. But after her onsite visit to MIT’s campus, Luz knew she belonged there. She graduated four years later with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. Her professional experience began at Motorola immediately after that. She was an electrical hardware engineer for Motorola’s automotive telematics system for three years before deciding she now had to publicly share her scholastic and professional experience with others.

Luz worked as a data management systems consultant for several years before heading back to Boston to work on her master’s degree in education at Harvard. She was awarded her degree with an emphasis on technology in 2003. Luz then accepted a position as a researcher on a NASA funded study on informal science education in afterschool settings. She co-authored the final report which was published and distributed by NASA. Luz followed that experience with a research position funded by the National Science Foundation evaluating the WIDE World, K-12 online professional development program based at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  After that, she accepted an Assistant Director position at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), managing educational outreach for the Diversity Center.

After eight years of researching educational programs, Luz founded DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Girls, a non-profit organization devoted to providing hands-on scholastic experiences for underserved girls interested in engineering and technology. DIY Girls develops and implements educational programs and events designed to encourage exploration with technology, while promoting self-confidence and aspirations supporting careers in technical fields. This is without a doubt Luz’s greatest gift to her community, a program that has reached over 2,000 girls in the Northeast San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles.

Now Luz hopes to serve the people of the 39th Assembly District. When asked about what she has learned as a candidate, she reflected, “I have learned that people in the district really want someone who will listen to them and take action. I have also learned how to be a better listener in this campaign.”

To learn more about Luz, check out her campaign website. She has advanced to the June runoff to fill the remaining term of the previous Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra, who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

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Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas is a Southern California-based freelance writer and education professional. Her writing has been published in NBC Latino,,, Alternet, and The Electronic Intifada.

She has worked in the non-profit sector, in the K-12 system, and in higher education in various capacities. When she's not writing stories or working on media projects, Adriana trains instructors to teach online at the University of California, Irvine.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.

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