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Cristian is a business development professional for an international nonprofit with a mission to "Feed, Fuel, and Heal the world."

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"Curiosity should be nurtured so surround yourself with curious people and things. The professors you have at COC and the faculty at AOC are some of the most curious minds you could ask for so learn as much as you can from them. Take that attitude of curiosity with you along with your diploma."

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Cristian Rene Cardenas
Class of 2011

2017- Participating in an international conference with 100 other young scientific leaders.


My career roadmap has been all over the place.

Knew I needed to learn more hard science so I came to AOC and focused on math and science de-emphasizing the music route larger public schools were presenting to me.

Knew I did not want to enroll as a freshman and there was only one program that seemed cutting edge and controversial of all the UC's so on graduating from AOC I stayed at COC for an additional year to transfer as a junior to UC Davis. Denied direct and guaranteed UC admission for reapplication a year later.

Knew I was entering a lab tech-heavy program so spoke directly to a professor at COC to be accepted as a summer lab intern prior to heading to Davis in Fall preferring to have a completed IGETC certification over an AA on my transcript.

Knew I only had a short time at UCD so I set internship and networking goals along with a strict social and academic plan. These goals included qualifying for summer study abroad requirements and utilizing professor office hours.

Knew at graduation form undergrad that I had the necessary experience and training [which included 3 additional internships; one in a campus lab, one in Washington DC, and the last on campus in a lab tech transfer office] to return to my hometown and find work as a scientist.

Knew I needed experience in industry and to understand my communities approach to entry-level science prior to pursuing graduate education in industry policy and management so I worked at the bench testing dog food for toxins prior to studying and entering grad school.

Knew this would be my last academic stop prior to my official career as an advocate and liaison for a better innovative ecosystem in our area which impacts national and international innovation so I focused on honing my professional, networking, and analytical skills via many projects and informational interviews prior to graduation.

Graduated with my Masters of BioScience and began my career first working with a local community college, then a statewide trade association, and now at an international technology accelerator.



Here are my extracurriculars relevant to this pathway


  • Music! Singing or playing trumpet builds necessary discipline and teamwork skills. Sang at COC in their jazz choir with my brother also in the choir. Played trumpet on weekends with a Cal Arts community program where I convinced some of my old friends prior to AOC from other high schools to play so we could still see each other.

  • ASB! I had a ton of experience with leadership models prior to AOC and I decided to push myself to be more extroverted from how I was prior to AOC so I ran for president at the end of my first year at AOC and won making sure everyone had a fun and fulfilling year when I was a senior.

  • ASG! Associated Student Government, while at AOC I was also on the COC campus participating in their student government advocating for ways to have more cohesion for AOC students so it didn't feel like living in two separate universes, as the Cultural Student Involvement Coordinator I made sure all COC student communities were celebrated, engaged, and invited to participate in campus life. I left making sure there was on official AOC Liaison position written into the ASG bylaws. I always hoped future students would take advantage of that position.

  • Robotics! My friends and I knew AOC students might not have the sports or arts budget our friends at other high schools had in the district so we made sure we were the home of the SCV robotics team instead, which was always under the threat of losing support at other campuses. Making sure the team was open to the whole district was another great way for us to collaborate with friends across the valley.

  • Church!  This is important for many reasons but one of the biggest was so that I never went overboard with the amount of classes and academics were consuming my time. Keeping involved in my parish, provided time to focus on my mental/spiritual wellbeing, family, and community in a way that kept me grounded and realistic with what was the point of all this studying and hard work if it doesn't do good for everyone.


  • Music! The first major hurdle I needed to get over when starting my AOC path was feeling like I was betraying all the time and effort I put into music. I told myself early on, "You can do music as a hobby while having a career in science but you can't have a career in music while having science as a hobby". This is NOT true but it was necessary for me to put the same dedication and discipline I put into music into my classes and career. Now that I am in a career I can tell you I was glad to always keep up on my singing and playing because I get to participate in community choirs and perform every once in a while even make some cash here and there. Ultimately, I always knew I did not want music to be a thing I once enjoyed and now have to make money off of so I gave it the space it deserved in my life to be a hobby and I think that really paid off. So don't lose or give up completely on what you enjoy as you continue to seriously study and enter a career just know what role you want it to play in your life.

  • Volunteer! I have always volunteered so as I continued through beyond college into my career, I decided to take it a bit more seriously. I've done just about every job there is as a nonprofit volunteer, to the point that now not only do I work for one but I'm on the board of another and participate in many. Find ways to spend your time and energy in a manner that feels worthwhile and resonate with what you believe in or hope to see in the world around you. Doing this is a great way to maintain friendships and your community for years to come.

  • Clubs! Life after AOC graduation still has schedules to some extent, however, you now have to work a lot harder to make those schedules line up with and attract people who will share your interest. That’s where clubs and events come in, find time to try out new clubs to make new friends, and have new experiences. Eventually, you may even do what I did and start your own club(s) with new friends that share your interest. Even if it is in board games, no one can deny my grad school was all the better for a weekly night where faculty and students could destress and get to know each other over some pizza and monopoly.

  • Travel! The world is a big place and you live in SoCal which is one of the most diverse and interesting places anyone could want to be. Being curious is a natural trait of a scientist and a healthy trait to exercise as you continue to learn and grow beyond AOC. I've been to places thousands of miles away that were less exotic than what I sometimes find only 30 mins away from my doorstep. The key is to never travel as a tourist but as an ambassador and friend; the more you can practice that mindset away from home the easier it is to be one all the time.

  • Church! Faith, hope, and love are tough extracurriculars but worth never giving up on. Eventually, even lifelong learners run out of classroom time and yet they realize there is still more growing and bettering to be done for you, your environment, and your community. Luckily, some of the greatest thinkers and examples of the human experience are available for discussion on the topics of faith, hope, and love. I would suggest finding and keeping a place where you can explore those topics for yourself as you go down your journey beyond graduation.


What I'm currently doing/hope to do

Currently, as a young business development professional for an international nonprofit high tech accelerator with a mission to "Feed, Fuel, and Heal the world" I get a lot of leeway on how we make that happen. Often it involves bringing together a lot of semi-interested parties from government, academia, and industry to help them realized just how co-invested we all are in the success of very young innovations and ideas. Once everyone is convinced, there is a ton of paperwork and negotiations on how to best change the world and who gets paid for what part of that change. Luckily, I am a part of a great team of people backing each other up and making the opportunities I put on the table a reality.


How to maximize my time in high school?

  • Advice #1: Teamwork is everything, if you don't like group projects then that just means you haven't learned how to properly do one yet. That sounds harsh but really a group project has less to do with the final product than it does with the process which leans heavily on; accountability, empathy, and planning.

  • Advice #2: Give tenacity a try, then don't stop giving it a try. At AOC you are in a great environment to be eager and excited constantly trying while often failing. The faster and better you fail then try again the more essential you'll be when you enter your career of innovation.

  • Advice #3: Curiosity should be nurtured so surround yourself with curious people and things. The professors you have at COC and the faculty at AOC are some of the most curious minds you could ask for so learn as much as you can from them. Take that attitude of curiosity with you along with your diploma.

  • Advice #4: Your reliability will be constantly tested so be smart about knowing yourself especially your limitations on time and energy. Increasing demands and new exciting challenges will start at AOC and continue throughout your life and career.

  • Advice #5: Genuine empathy is hard to come by and great to cultivate early on. Today is a great day to start practicing seeing things from everyone else's perspective in a realistic way taking into account their time and energy.

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