Riverside, Ca –


Juan Banales (BS’13 ME) wasn’t the only person in his family to earn an engineering degree, but he was the first to have a career in engineering with the support of the University of California.


Banales’ father earned a degree in agricultural engineering in Mexico, but despite his education and early jobs in engineering, he wanted to pursue more opportunities in the United States. So he eventually immigrated to California in search of better job prospects. “He essentially went from being an engineer by education to a blue collar worker, which still afforded him a great career and eventually greater opportunities for his family in the United States,” said Banales.


Knowing that his father studied engineering but never got a chance to fully pursue it as a career, Banales decided that he, too, would become an engineer. His ambition was supported as a participant in UC Irvine’s COSMOS program, which mentors high school students who are interested in STEM careers.


When it was time to enroll in college, Banales chose a UC because of its renowned mechanical engineering program and its history with the Free Speech Movement. As a student, he participated in the College of Engineering’s student advisory council and was part of the first LeaderShape cohort. He credited this experience with cultivating his interest in public service.


“One of the highlights of my college experience was the LeaderShape academy. This program helped me define leadership, personally and professionally,” said Banales.


Inspired by his work with LeaderShape, Banales wanted to use his technical background to give back to his community in Pittsburg, California. He returned there after an internship with Dow Chemical turned into his first job after college. While working at Dow, he was also appointed to the city’s planning commission and pushed for more environmentally-friendly designs, such as requiring solar panels on buildings or pre-wiring structures for solar. He also advocated for requirements that mandated new shopping plazas build electric vehicle charging stations.


After a few years on the planning commission, Banales realized that he’d be better able to implement his ideas for improving his community if he were a member of the city council. In 2016, he ran and was elected to the Pittsburg City Council. At 25 years old, he was the youngest councilmember in Pittsburgh’s history.


Every year, the city selects one of its council members to be mayor. During an election year, it is the council member that received the most votes. The following year, it’s the person that won the second highest number of votes and so on. In December 2018, it was Banales’ turn to be mayor. And at 27, he is the youngest mayor in Pittsburg’s history. 


“At the fundamental core of Berkeley Engineering and the university as a whole is a commitment to community and to be a well-rounded person. From professors to the body of research, the emphasis was always on how to use my education to be a good citizen,” said Banales. “I look back on my time at Berkeley and I strongly feel that if I had gone anywhere else, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”