History & Profiles

Former SBHS student comes full circle

Ruben Sobreyra’s life journey has taken him from homelessness in Hollister to Japan internships and back to Hollister as a college graduate.
From left: Ruben and Anthony Sobreyra at UC Davis. Photo courtesty of Ruben Sobreyra.
From left: Ruben and Anthony Sobreyra at UC Davis. Photo courtesty of Ruben Sobreyra.

Five years ago, Ruben Sobreyra graduated from San Benito High School with 13 scholarships and plans to attend UC-Davis. Now, after serving an internship in Japan and adding another 15 scholarships to his portfolio, he has graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering.

The 23-year-old’s experiences and accomplishments are remarkable considering his background of extreme poverty and growing up as one of five children of a single mother. More remarkably, he is currently helping to design a residential subdivision in Hollister near Vista Park Hill that is a stone’s throw away from where he stayed when he was homeless during his senior year in high school after his mother and siblings were deported.

“He is so incredible that I run out of adjectives when I talk about him,” said Mitch Huerta, one of Sobreyra’s former teachers at SBHS. “He faced so many obstacles, he passed so many challenges, but he embraced them with a determination to overcome and achieve. He is the most resourceful person I know, period.”


‘Outworked everyone else’

Huerta describes himself as Sobreyra’s “teacher-parent,” and helped him move into his dorm at UC-Davis. He was also there at the SBHS Senior Awards Night watching Sobrayra pick up his scholarships.

“He was not a top-10 student,” Huerta said. “He was not valedictorian. He just outworked everyone else and fought to get those opportunities.”

When Sobreyra arrived at UC-Davis, he had to balance academic life with being on his own in a dorm far from anyone he knew.

”I had to be wise about it,” he said. “I had to tightly budget myself in my freshman year so I could get the hang of navigating through college without working.”

Sobreyra continued applying for scholarships and received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which allowed him to take an internship in Japan during the summer after his freshman year.

“I went to Japan because they had the only engineering program that interested me,” he said. “I wanted to study structure and transportation. It was a great trip—they have such great hospitality in Japan and they made sure we felt comfortable and like we were guests in their country.”

Sobreyra got involved with a group of Japanese students on a project and said that the language barrier was not an obstacle to creating a great working relationship.

“We got to work with one another,” he said. “We were using our differences to our advantage to make sure that our project covered all walks of life.”

When Sobreyra returned from Japan, he had enough money to leave the dorm for an apartment and bring his younger brother Anthony back from Mexico to live with him.

“He is my best friend and my partner in life,” he said. “He is the main reason why I was able to make it through college.”

Transportation and structures became Sobreyra’s favorite subjects in school. Both areas of study had personal connections to his life.

“Growing up poor, it was really hard for me to find access to transportation,” he said. “There is a real societal aspect to transportation and I never realized how much impact just having transportation can have on people. It was something that I became interested in—how transportation could make or break your life.”

His interest in structures came in part from what he knew about the work of his father, who was deported when Sobreyra was six years old.

“He worked in construction,” Sobreyra said, “I used to admire that part of him because he never finished high school and became successful even though he was self-taught. From him, I really began to get an appreciation for how human beings can create such amazing structures. The artistic, creative aspect of engineering spoke to me.”


Family ‘most important’ 

During the pandemic, both Sobreyra and Anthony lost their jobs, jeopardizing his academic career.

“My brother and I were depending on both our incomes,” he said. “I thought for a moment that I would have to leave school. But I kept looking until I found a job and started working 40 hours a week on top of my school work. I think growing up poor is the main reason I am so adaptable. You learn, when you are poor, that you can’t let the world fall on you, you have to keep getting back up.” 

With the money Sobreyra earned at his new job, he was able to bring his other four brothers and sisters, who had also lost their jobs during the pandemic, to Sacramento from where they had scattered after his mother was deported, and helped them get established.

“I was able to support them for a few months until they found jobs,” he said. “I was also doing all the budgeting for my family, helping them build their credit, and get stable. But I am really thankful for the chance to do it. We have always been poor and family is the most important thing to all of us.”

Still, his active schedule, with no time to rest, began to wear Sobreyra down.

“There were some times when it would get really stressful,” he said. “There were times I would be driving home from work and crying in the car because I did not want to cry in front of my family. Those days, I did not know if I could keep going or whether it was going to be worth it.  You could do all of this college work and not be able to find a job when you were done.”

During his college years, Sobreyra still kept in touch with Huerta.


‘An amazing moment’

“He continues to amaze me,” Huerta said. “He is tenacious and works hard at everything he does. He does whatever he can to learn as much as he can and be the best brother and son and uncle he can be. I really can’t express how much I respect and admire this young man.”

Sobreyra graduated in December and took a brief vacation—his first since going to Davis. He landed a job with Carlson, Barbee & Gibson, Inc. a civil engineering firm and plans to move to the Bay Area, bringing his family with him, of course.

“I am creating plot and condo plans,” he said. “I am designing what clients will receive, which are outlines of their property and the dimensions of what they own.”

Now that he is employed and firmly on course with his career, Sobreyra has had a chance to consider how far in life he has come, and how much his hard work has paid off.

“The coolest part is being able to work on a project for Hollister,” he said. “I was sitting at my desk, designing the plans, and it hit me, I grew up in Hollister. I have been homeless in Hollister. It is so crazy to think back then, I had nothing, I come from essentially nothing, and here I am, years later, designing projects for the city I grew up in. It was an amazing moment for me.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.