Alexis Cañas is a Cal Poly 2020 Great Grad

Alexis Cañas is one of six Great Grads from 
across the university


As she worked toward a degree in construction management at Cal Poly, Alexis Cañas had a guiding goal: to graduate debt-free. At 16, she started working in restaurants to support herself and her two younger siblings, in addition to keeping up with school and extracurricular activities. Her younger brother and sister became her motivation to succeed.

“Coming to college was a big financial burden on top of what I already had to take care of,” she said. “I had to work a lot to be able to afford to take care of my family and to be here.”

Cañas, of Indio, California, started studying civil engineering at UC Irvine, but after a year decided it wasn’t a good fit. She attended a local community college to help determine her career path. There, she visited the career services office and learned more about construction management.

“I saw Cal Poly had a great construction management program, and I learn best by doing. It seemed to be the right fit,” she said. “Now here I am a few years later and I couldn’t have picked a better major.”

While at Cal Poly, Cañas applied for numerous scholarships, year after year, to help pay for her education. She also worked as a server and had a few internships. Now, as she prepares to graduate, she has achieved her debt-free goal.

“I have a lot of people depending on me financially,” Cañas said. “Not having to worry about paying off student debt further enables me to take care of those I love.”

A first-generation student, Cañas said she faced challenges in trying to navigate the path to her degree.

“It’s difficult being a part of the LGBTQ community, a person of color and lower income. While it seemed everyone around me in my major and the industry that I’m seeking to work in was nearly the complete opposite,” Cañas said. “It can be hard to find people to relate to and have a support system.”

However, at Cal Poly, Cañas found professors who are deeply invested in their students. Construction management faculty member Andrew Kline helped Cañas apply to scholarships, guided her toward an internship that led to a job opportunity, and provided support and advice.

At Cal Poly, Cañas worked on the new William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation as an intern with Gilbane Building Company, the construction manager for the project. A groundbreaking for the Frost Center, which will house culinary, sensory, food safety and product development labs at the heart of campus, was held in June 2019.

“Being able to say I took part in constructing a new building on campus is a great achievement to me,” she said.

Cañas plans to work for Snyder Langston, an Irvine-based commercial general contracting firm. Cañas is looking forward to finishing a project she started last summer while she was an intern at the firm, and being close to her family.

“By obtaining my degree, I hope it will encourage others in my family to pursue one as well,” she said. “I may be the first one in my family, but I know I will not be the last.

Credit for this article goes to the Cal Poly Communications team. 

For more information, or to read more about the other five Great Grads, go to

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