Alums’ new company blends art and tech under one roof

Step into Obra, a new company located in a warehouse just north of midtown Sacramento, and it’s quickly apparent you’re seeing something different. Workbenches and giant wood cutting tables sit next to a room full of computers and soldering irons. Beyond that, there’s a dance floor – built in-house – complete with mirrors and a barre.

Obra, founded by Sacramento State alumni Isela Perez ’12 (Journalism) and Brandon Ortiz ’15 (Computer Engineering), opened its doors in January and probably is best described through its name: The word means “work of art” in Spanish, and the warehouse is part maker’s space, part dance studio. The company is founded on the belief that through combining their talents – Perez is a dancer who studied journalism, Ortiz studied computer engineering and has a background in product design and development – they can create, and help others create, something stronger and more meaningful.

“We realized how much art has an impact on creativity,” Ortiz says. “Even if it’s programming, where you can get into this mindset of just grinding and doing strictly technical work, if you step back and think about the artistic or creative aspect of what you’re doing, you tend to find better solutions to the problem.”

Perez and Ortiz met three years ago at a sports bar in Sacramento, and even from their initial conversations knew they had a lot in common, including a desire to create something new and unique. They just didn’t know specifically what that was yet.

Both transferred to Sacramento State from community college – Perez transferred from Sacramento City College, Ortiz attended Sierra College in Rocklin before working to design control systems for an elevator company – and says both the perspective of being older than the traditional student as well as the accessibility of their professors helped them get the most out of their time on campus.

“We valued education a lot and I think that’s what motivated us to get close with our professors, to be able to talk with them,” Perez says. “You realize, ‘I could have been doing this with high school, I could have been really connecting with professors, with my peers, and taking advantage of more. Sac State was definitely welcoming for someone who wanted to go as far as they could.”

In 2015, a six-month trip to Nicaragua where, Ortiz says, “we just had each other,” taught them both how to respond to new challenges and live a minimalist life. “We found happiness from creating. We wanted to build a place where we can create and use our skills and the experience we picked up to help other people create.”

Obra’s revenue comes through dance classes Perez offers at the studio – she also works part time as a dancer for the Sacramento Kings – as well as various other projects and partnerships, such as creating stencils for a group that wanted to use street art to promote this year’s Sacramento Concerts in the Park lineup. The company also is set up to sell the products that are made in its work space. Its current partners include the maker of a large LED chandelier that can be used as an art display or centerpiece at special events, as well as Sacramento State’s own Hornet Hyperloop team, for which they are helping to develop control systems.

The art and the tech go hand-in-hand: Ortiz began dancing about a year ago, giving him a creative outlet when he needs a break from product development. Perez says the same about learning to program. They encourage their partners to utilize the dance space – even a couple of the Hyperloop team members have started to wander over to the studio side of the warehouse.

“It’s a group of engineering students, probably not the most likely to jump out on the dance floor, but we’ve got some of them moving,” Ortiz says.

The couple spend 12-14 hours a day in the studio, seven days a week. But they say the ability to spend each day creating something new continues to motivate them, as well as the belief that they have built something that isn’t just unique, but necessary.

“I think (something like Obra) was missing,” Perez says. “A place that you can create without a boundary. I don’t think there’s ever an idea that we’ll say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ or, ‘No, we don’t know about that.’ Bring us your idea, and we’ll try our best to make it happen.”

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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.”

CapRadio anchor and proud alumnus celebrates 30 years on the air

Capital Public Radio's morning news anchor Steve Milne
Capital Public Radio morning news anchor Steve Milne broadcasts “Morning Edition,” the station’s most popular news program. (Sacramento State/Steve McKay)

For thousands of listeners across Northern California and beyond, Steve Milne’s voice is one of the first they hear every morning.

This past week, the Capital Public Radio morning news anchor celebrated three decades with the nonprofit news operation – a major milestone in a journalistic career that started not far from the booth from which he broadcasts today.

Capital Public Radio is licensed to and headquartered at Sacramento State, from which Milne earned a bachelor’s degree in government/journalism in 1985. As the host of “Morning Edition,” his is one of the station’s most prominent and recognizable voices, reaching more than 100,000 listeners each week.

“I got into journalism because I wanted to try to make a difference, to tell stories about people who don’t really have voices,” Milne says. “My experience at Sacramento State really drove me in that direction.”

Growing up, Milne would tag along with his dad to the Sac State campus and says he never doubted he, too, would be a Hornet. He broke into broadcasting with Capital Public Radio as a student intern in 1983.

Over the past 30 years, Milne has served in a multitude of roles on and off the air: He hosted the popular world music program “Global Beat,” reported hard-news stories as a newscaster, contributed to award-winning documentary series, anchored “All Things Considered,” and in 2009 took over as co-anchor of “Morning Edition” – the station’s most popular program.

But for all the accolades he has earned over the years, Milne says his greatest reward is still simply being able to use his voice to inform, educate, and inspire his listeners, to tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

He says Sac State and Professors William Dorman and the late Joe Serna Jr., who served as the city’s mayor from 1993 to 1999, had a profound impact on him personally and professionally.

“For both William Dorman and Joe Serna, there was passion but also the high ideals of what journalism could do to change society (and) make the public aware of injustices in the world … instilling in the students that we had a great future ahead of us and that we could make a difference,” Milne says.

As he celebrates 30 years of making a difference, Milne is still embodying the principles and ideals that inspired him to get into journalism all those years ago.

Congratulations to Steve on a truly remarkable career, and here’s to many more years on the air! Be sure to check out his Made at Sac State profile for a more detailed look into the life of one of the most popular personalities in public radio.