There’s a process that characterizes engineering—imagine a concept, design a prototype, build it, test, start again and improve. Design. Build. Test.
It’s a formula the now 27-year-old Rojas has come to love. A formula he learned at a place where he became great. A place where he learned to be a creator. His second-greatest creation is Melo, a humanoid robot designed to go places too dangerous or inconvenient for humans to go.
Inside a lab in the Cal State LA College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology (ECST), you’d typically find Rojas in a T-shirt, athletic shorts and black Nike sneakers, as if he’s ready to step out on a court or a field at a moment’s notice. He’s a presence, making jokes and helping fellow students work through complex problems in the lab, where he spent countless hours as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University.
On this day, he’s showing off Melo to East Los Angeles College students on a visit with Cal State LA’s Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Schools Program, which aims to inspire youth in underserved schools to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The group surrounds Rojas inside the lab. He punctuates each statement with a question for the students.
Rojas asks if anyone knows what a humanoid robot is. A few mumble guesses as they marvel at the machine. Rojas points out the robot’s arms, body, head. They’re robots that mimic human characteristics, he explains.