Pair of Hornet alumni head California Department of Technology

If you think dealing with technology issues at home or at the office is a big job, imagine doing it for the entire state of California.

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Amy Tong

Running the state’s Department of Technology – keeping computers and other technology up and running for more than 130 government agencies, as well as providing strategic guidance for California’s IT programs and policy – are two Sacramento State alumni: Amy Tong ’94 (Management Information Systems), MBA ’98, and Chris Cruz ’88 (Business Administration). Tong is the department director as well as the statewide chief information officer; Cruz serves as chief deputy director and deputy state CIO.

Both grew up in Sacramento – Tong immigrated to the United States from China with her family when she was 12 – and came to Sac State in large part because it offered an affordable, quality education close to home. Both also have spent nearly their entire careers working in the public sector and say they enjoy their current roles because of the ability to take a wide view of the state’s technology infrastructure and propose solutions to make it more efficient and effective.

Below, they answer a few questions about their time at Sac State and their current jobs with the Department of Technology.

Why did you decide to attend Sacramento State?

Cruz: It was an easy decision for me because, for one, my parents were helping me pay for college, and I found out that I could actually live at home. I also liked the fact that Sac State has a strong business administration program, and that’s where my degree is, in business administration and management. So I really enjoyed my time there, and the fact that it was easy for me to live at home and go to school.

Tong: I’m actually very, very similar. I was able to live at home, and I worked throughout college to help (pay for) my tuition as well as help my family. Staying close to my family was important, and Sac State has a great reputation. One other thing that attracted me was the difference between the Cal State and the (University of California) systems. My brother actually went to UC Davis, so we have this debate all day long at home that the UCs are more research-oriented and Cal State is more practical. I’m a practical person, so I liked the Cal State system.

When did you become interested in working in the IT field?

Tong: My major (management information systems) was in either its first or second year when I started at Sac State. It’s computer science but inside business administration, and that’s kind of the uniqueness that attracted me. How do you apply computer science into business?

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Chris Cruz

Cruz: I always had an understanding that I would get into the IT field, but I actually started in business and went through understanding policy and business before I transitioned into information technology, which I did at the midpoint of my state career. That served me well in terms of having the business sense to communicate technology to business folks, because it can be quite frustrating if you’re very technical in your approach and you’re not able to break things down into what I call “bricks and mortar” for them.

How has what you learned at Sac State helped you throughout your career?

Cruz: I graduated in 1989, and six months after, I applied for state jobs and was able to get a state position at the Department of Justice. Sac State gave me the foundation to get into an analytical position as opposed to starting in an entry-level position. It prepared me for what I would learn in business, the economics of things, looking at the fiscal perspective of how government works and operates, and being able to have that big-picture thinking.

Tong: After my bachelor’s degree, I came directly to work for the state, but I had the opportunity to work during the daytime and go to night school for my master’s. It really helped me appreciate more of what I learned in college and then immediately apply it to what I needed to do at work. That back-and-forth makes the whole learning experience much more meaningful. That’s one thing I really enjoyed about Sac State. Even through my bachelor’s degree, (for) a lot of the items that were taught in the classroom, my professors always talked about how they would apply to real-world experience.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

Tong: Problem solving. My favorite part is that we have a broad perspective and can realize that Department A has a solution that can be used for Department B. We’re in the unique position to facilitate a lot of this collaboration and look for ways to share resources and streamline efforts for the state as a whole. Having a more enterprise-wide view, a statewide view, a holistic view helps drive efficiency within government.

Cruz: Having the opportunity to come in and work with Amy and all the fine people here to help transform the way government works from a technology perspective. That has been something that I enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing, that we are making a difference as a technology organization, and that we’re making things more efficient and effective for government through strategic change, through a collaborative government. It’s not an army of one. It’s an army of many.

What’s your advice to current Sac State students?

Tong: Get a job while you’re going to school. That work experience is invaluable. I know when we’re hiring, we always look for a good balance of education and practical on-the-job training.

Cruz: Learn that life is a privilege and not an entitlement. When you come into a job, a degree doesn’t guarantee a certain amount of success. What it does is get your foot into the door, but what you do after that, you’ve got to earn and work hard.

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Alumna’s nonprofit focuses on getting Latinas engaged with their community

When she was younger, Angela Rosas ’08 (Journalism) used volunteering to escape – from school, from unavoidable circumstances, and from a low-income neighborhood that was plagued by the issues that often affect impoverished communities. But as she got older, she started to notice something alarming about the organizations at which she served.

“There were a large amount of Latinos utilizing those services, but there wasn’t a lot of giving back,” she says. “Rarely did I see Latinos on staff. Rarely did I see Latinos volunteering.”

Angela-Rosas-webBelieving it was critical that the people serving the community shared a background with and understood the experiences of those they were helping, Rosas decided to take matters into her own hands. In 2009, she started her own nonprofit, Chicas Latinas de Sacramento, which is dedicated to promoting civic engagement among Latinas and increase the number of them who volunteer in the community. What began as a meet-and-greet dinner with 15 women has grown into an organization with more than 250 members that sponsors a variety of programs, events and partnerships that serve the Sacramento region.

Rosas’ day job is as a director for Mercury Public Affairs’ Sacramento office, where she serves as a consultant for some of the firm’s largest statewide clients, including The California Endowment and California Environmental Justice Alliance. But she also has nurtured her lifelong passion for volunteering, sparked in part by her belief that, as long as she has the ability, she has no choice but to pay it forward.

“It was also a way for me to be a light for the next generation in my family,” she says. “I wanted the kids in my family to see that I was getting educated, that I was going to college, that I was volunteering and being a part of my community.”

Rosas transferred to Sacramento State after attending community college locally. She worked multiple jobs – and her father picked up extra work – to pay for tuition, which allowed her to graduate debt-free. The flexibility that the University provides students – through night or online classes, for example – as well as the accessibility of her professors and counselors were essential to her success, she says.

“Sac State, for me, was an introduction to the rest of the world,” Rosas says. “It absolutely prepared me (for life after graduation). It brought me together with people from all over. The diversity of the campus was fantastic. I felt like I was part of the community.”

Knowing she was a strong writer, she studied journalism so that she could help tell the stories of her community and Latinos in general, and after graduation began work as a multimedia reporter in Tulare County. It wasn’t long, however, before her hometown beckoned her back. She returned to Sacramento to work as a grant-writer for a nonprofit organization that provided job training for displaced farmworkers. It was during that time she founded Chicas Latinas, eventually quitting her job to focus all of her energy on the nonprofit.

Just after Chicas Latinas became an officially registered nonprofit organization in 2012, Rosas began working full-time again, handling statewide marketing and business development for a Sacramento law firm before moving to Mercury in 2015.

As the founder and CEO of Chicas Latinas, she remains the public face of the organization, signing the checks, overseeing board meetings, and attending volunteer events when she can. But she says she is grateful for the dedicated team – all unpaid – that allows her to continue working full time and has helped the nonprofit she started continue to grow and thrive.

In addition to her work with Chicas Latinas, Rosas also is a member of Cien Amigos, an advocacy organization working for California and Mexico, and serves on the board of directors for Festival de la Familia. Her work has not gone unnoticed: She has received the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Rising Estrella Award; was featured in 2015 as a “Top Latino Influencer” by Vida en el Valle; was nominated in 2014 as a “Coors Light Lideres of the Year”; named in 2012 an “Inspiring Young Latina” by Latina Magazine; and was honored at the 2011 Sacramento Women of Color Day.

The recognition can be awkward, Rosas says, and when the awards come, she dedicates them to her parents, whose constant support she says has been instrumental to her success.

“My college degree, I felt, was ultimately for them,” she says. “They still have my degree. I gave it to them because they invested in me before I knew to invest in me. I felt like they earned that degree as much as I did.”

Presidential Leadership Scholar continues crusade for clean energy

Brandon Kline
Brandon Kline has dedicated his career to the pursuit of energy security in the United States. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Can capitalism help save the planet? Proud Sacramento State alumnus Brandon Kline thinks it can.

An energy law fellow at the Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Ore., Kline has dedicated his career to the pursuit of clean energy. And while his master’s thesis is on the role that capital markets play in addressing climate change, that barely scratches the surface of his efforts this past year.

Since 2015, Kline (’05, Government) has graduated from law school, earned his master’s in energy law, and was one of just 61 experts selected for the Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) program – one of the nation’s most exclusive and groundbreaking think tanks – all with the ultimate aim of answering America’s most pressing energy questions through public policy.

“This is not something where we should be looking at climate change as a polarizing issue,” Kline says. “Because we’re not really talking about climate change; we’re talking more about securing this nation’s energy sources and looking at what’s the smartest way for us to be able to produce energy.”

In the midst of it all, Kline and his wife, Rosilynn, had a daughter earlier this year. He plans to spend some much-deserved family time before launching his PLS project in the fall.

Now in its third year, PLS is a leadership development program that brings together diverse leaders from all over the country to address some of the nation’s most persistent issues. Each participant proposes his or her own project on a specific issue. They draw on resources from four presidential centers and work directly with former presidents, their senior staff members, and top industry leaders to find solutions that transcend party lines.

Kline was selected from more than 900 applicants for his project on energy security.

His project tackles myriad questions: How can we effectively get energy from areas producing the most renewable resources to the rest of the country? How can federal leadership ensure that states use more renewable energy? How can we create a wellspring of information to inform comprehensive energy policies that don’t change with each new presidential administration? From solar companies to leaders in the coal industry, interests from across the energy spectrum are a part of the discussion.

“The way I’m approaching it is not having only the clean guys at the table; you need to have everyone at the table,” he says.

Brandon Kline with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
Brandon Kline and Presidents Bill Clinton (left) and George W. Bush at a Presidential Leadership Scholars event. (Scott Beale/Atlas Corps.)

The project is the latest incarnation of a personal campaign that started over a decade ago at Sacramento State.

Originally from San Luis Obispo, Kline moved to Sacramento for the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the world through public policy. He enrolled at Sac State and went absolutely gangbusters, taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to get inside the State Capitol: He interned at the California Energy Commission, which Kline says “had a huge effect on (his) worldview” and prompted him to study energy law; he interned at the California Business Roundtable; he was a member of the University’s award-winning Capital Fellows Programs.

“I had a premier education here; I got everything I needed in Sacramento,” Kline says. “This is where everything’s happening. If you want to make a difference in the world, then you have to go where the people are, where the policymakers are, where the leaders are. So that’s why for me, I wanted to get out of a small town and make a difference.”

Making a difference on the biggest scale is exactly what Kline intends to do. His thesis, for example, proposes reforms to fair disclosure requirements so that public companies would have to divulge the impacts of climate change and legislation on their bottom lines. If this kind of information had to be public, Kline says, investors would naturally get behind cleaner, more profitable companies like Tesla that are ahead of the curve. In that sense, capital markets can actually have a real, tangible impact on climate change.

It’s that kind of high-minded thinking, coupled with an insatiable drive to better the world for generations to come, that has Kline moving faster than ever down a path toward a greener future – and he’s trying to bring the rest of us along.

“We don’t need blue electrons or red electrons; we need electricity throughout this country to be clean. That’s the only way you’re to get energy security here,” he says.“If we’re going to have a comprehensive solution that’s going to impact every corner of this country, we have to be able to have everyone buy in.”