Before I met Priyankaa Cid, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I imagined a scientist with a lab coat on, a bookworm or maybe even someone decked out in hiking attire. As Cid walked up to the table in her skinny jeans, t-shirt and flip flops, she shook my hand heartily, flipping her long dark brown hair to one side.
“Priyankaa?” I asked.
“Call me Pria,” she said casually, with a big smile as she sat down. She placed both elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her hair once more and began to share her story with me.
Cid, 21, graduated from Cal State Fullerton in July. She was the first student in history to receive her degree in Earth science from the university, with a minor in geography. She is also the first to receive a General Education Pathways Certificate, a new program where students can focus their general education units toward selective areas of study, including sustainability, globalization, innovative leadership and power and politics.
Last month, she began her professional career as a geologist at a local firm.
However, she did not always have a clear vision for her future. At 18, she was an incoming freshman unsure of what she wanted to do with her college career and beyond that.
“When I first started here, I was completely lost. For the first year, I was going to the career center every other day and going to every discipline’s lectures … I don’t like feeling lost,” she said.
But soon enough she found her niche with the Committee on Environmental Sustainability, where she later served as vice chair. It was here that she became a mentor to other students. One student in particular, Emerolina Cantu, 20, an international business major, has made several lifestyle changes through her friendship with Cid in the past year, such as becoming a vegetarian and reducing her use of plastic.
Cantu said that when she was a freshman at the Student Life Orientation, it was Cid who helped her get plugged in on campus.
“She’s very impactful. When she speaks you want to listen,” Cantu said.
Cid said she has an obsession with exploring the world around her and is constantly looking for new things she can learn and share with people around her. Her classes and the committee served as platforms for her to create change on campus.
“I like to be well-rounded … When you expose yourself to different things all at once, you learn better,” Cid said.
Cid played lacrosse to keep herself balanced from taking so many classes from a variety of disciplines. One of these courses was a philosophy class on the topic of a person’s relationship with the environment.
“She is definitely the most environmentally active student I have,” said Shlomo Sher, Ph.D., Cid’s environmental ethics professor.
Sher said Cid would bring “environmental swag” about Mother Earth to class. She once brought plants for her classmates to take home.
“On my son’s diaper bag, we still have one of the buttons she gave me, ‘be good to your mother,’” Sher said.
Her transition from academia to the professional world wasn’t an easy one, and Cid was diligent in pursuing opportunities that arose.
“There is a gap between academics and professional life. I didn’t know the specifics of the career paths that I would be taking. After I graduated, it was more finding out what can I do,” she said.
She began attending lectures and networking with professors.
By attending some of these conferences, Cid was able to narrow down the type of career she wanted to pursue.
In her quest for what lay beyond graduation day, Cid decided to go to the geology department’s Alumni Night. She struck up a conversation with CSUF alumnus Mark Zeko, vice president and principal hydrogeologist at Environmental Engineering & Contracting, Inc., a consulting firm in Orange that provides expert environmental consultations to public and private clients.
“She seemed to have a lot of energy and be very outgoing, and from what I heard from some of the professors was that she was a smart student … She seemed very energetic, most students wouldn’t come up and talk, but she just walked right up and talked to me,” Zeko said.
She had just lost her job at a bowling alley when she was hired by Environmental Engineering & Contracting, Inc.
“I was so emotional because this is going to change my life,” she said.
As Cid’s life changes, those around her can see that she will continue to educate and affect more people for the better.
“She is going to change the world and she’s already doing it, maybe not on a large scale, but she changed me,” Cantu said.