Headshot of Isaiah De La Cruz

Cal State East Bay College of Business and Economics Alumnus Empowered by Mentorship

  • BY Sarah Harris
  • June 18, 2024

Learning the Language of Business and Finance

When Isaiah De La Cruz came to Cal State East Bay, he chose to study business administration with a concentration in finance to demystify money-related topics. “Being low income, I wondered why finance seemed to work for others, but not for us,” said De La Cruz, a first-generation graduate. 

Financial literacy is a critical skill, and De La Cruz knew his pursuits in the business world would require mastery of accounting and finance. He said, “Finance is like a new language that needs to be learned and there’s a lot of power when you learn it.”

As an undergraduate, De La Cruz was involved in the College of Business and Economics, serving as the senator for Associated Students Inc., and made use of the Office of Career & Professional Development at CBE. When he needed support, De La Cruz reached out to the CBE dean and the OCPD staff. “When I was a sophomore, I had just found out I was going to become a father. I was freaking out, wondering how will I make things work?” he said.

The OCPD staff introduced De La Cruz to the Association of Latino Professionals For America. He started a chapter on campus, identified mentorship and internship opportunities, and organized a regional conference on campus. De La Cruz eventually became the president of ALPFA. “Without them,” De La Cruz said of the CBE staff and dean, “my growth wouldn't have happened as fast.”

Looking back now, De La Cruz offers advice to student parents who might be struggling: “Being a parent is one of the most beautiful things a person can do. If you can learn how to balance being a good parent and still pursuing your individual dreams, whether that be career-focused or otherwise, you’ll be successful.”


Mentoring the Next Generation

Through CBE advisory meetings, De La Cruz met alumnus Rick Juarez. Juarez, who graduated in 1987 with a degree in business administration, has stayed connected to the university through his involvement with the CBE Advisory Board and The Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies. De La Cruz was amazed by the similarities in their backgrounds and said, “If someone like Rick comes into your life, listen to them. There’s no substitute for years of experience.” 

After his own years at Cal State East Bay, Juarez said he felt well-prepared for his next step — Harvard Business School — because he studied hard and had great professors who pushed him to excel. When Juarez meets current students, he tells them to dream big and work very hard. Juarez said, “I encourage people to ask for help. Isaiah is good at doing that. The worst the other person can say is no.”

Another key piece of advice Juarez passed on to De La Cruz was to always strive to make an impact and make the most of your career before moving on to the next step. De La Cruz took this to heart when he began working at a regional bank in Stockton in early 2020. 

During his first few weeks of employment, De La Cruz made it a point to ask his manager if there was anything else he could do around the bank. While the answer was initially no, De La Cruz was soon offered the opportunity to help with the new Paycheck Protection Program as Covid-19 descended upon the world. “I saw the PPP as not something to be scared of, but as an opportunity,” he said. “No one else had seen this in the history of banking. Although our senior leaders were experts in other aspects of commercial banking, everyone in the industry was starting from square one with the PPP. This meant that, if I put the work in, I could help make a huge impact.”

De La Cruz put in substantial effort to become his bank’s expert on the PPP, carefully reading legislation on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and guidance from the Internal Revenue Service. Through his work with the PPP, De La Cruz helped over 400 small businesses in Central California and the Bay Area.

De La Cruz will start at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in the fall. Afterward, he is interested in pursuing a career in investment banking and credits Juarez with introducing him to the field.