Engineering a Life

 Alumnus Salvador Rojas built a robot while studying at Cal State LA. But his greatest invention came outside the lab.

That day, in his mind, through that window, he determined his destination.

Design. Build. Test.

Salvador Rojas working on a piece of technology in a lab.

Navigating the unexpected

“I know I can. (I know I can.) Be what I want to be. (Be what I want to be.)”

A photograph of Melo, a robot designed by Salvador Rojas.

Meet Melo

If Melo were a man, he’d stand 5 feet, 7 inches tall, looking eye-to-eye with Rojas, and weighing close to 290 pounds.

A group of engineering students with Melo and Sal.

Finding a passion

Five androids from different films: Robotic maid from The Jetsons, Wall-E, C 3 P O, evil android from the film Artificial Intelligence, and the Iron Giant.

‘I see gold in it’

“If you could capture and bottle the notion of role model, it would look and speak like Sal Rojas.”

“It’s much more than a professor-student relationship. It’s more like a friend you can talk to, make jokes with. A lifelong friend.”

A group of engineering students with Melo and Sal.

A bright future

“None of them knew that Rojas had been selected for a Commencement honor—until the president of the University asked him to stand.”

Rojas in a graduation cap, smiling brightly.

Maybe it’s easier to return to your past when you’re living your future and it’s bright.

Never finished

“I had to kind of reverse engineer it—reverse engineer life.”

Illustrations by Nery Orellana
Photos by J. Emilio Flores and Tyrone D. Washington

Photo 1: Melo, the humanoid robot. Photo 2: Salvador Rojas (far right) and his undergraduate research team (from left to right) Jeovanny Reyes, Byron Smith, Bryan Tan Nguyen, Adryel Arizaga and Francisco Moxo. Photo 3: Salvador Rojas (left) and Professor He Shen in the robotics lab. Photo 4: Salvador Rojas smiles as he stands to be recognized at Commencement.