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Like many in his generation, Cesar Chavez has a great affinity for video games. Where his path differs from most people’s, however, is that what commonly is thought of as a time drain he used as a career pathway.

Chavez, the 2011 Dean’s Award honoree from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, knew from an early age he wanted to turn his hobby into a job. He did not, however, quite know how to get there until high school, when he discovered a love for computer programming that was reinforced at Sacramento State.

His sister graduated from Sac State, and Chavez knew it was the place for him. He didn’t even apply anywhere else. “Financially, it would be better for me to stick close by,” says Chavez, who has lived with his parents throughout college. “I definitely enjoy being with my family.”

Sticking close to home allowed him to concentrate on his studies and work only during a couple of summers, including an internship with Google for two summers through the Math, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program.

“Cesar has very high expectations of himself, and he is willing to work very hard to achieve academic perfection, but he is also very humble and kind,” says Jaime White, who coordinates the MESA Engineering Program. White interviewed Chavez when the latter was a candidate for the MEP Honors Fellowship.

Chavez discovered a passion for the Japanese language at Sac State – one that has a practical application, as he aspires to work in Japan as a programmer for gaming titan Nintendo. He minored in the language and was president of Sac State’s Japanese Club, which hosted more than 30 events promoting Japan. And in late July, he flies to Japan to work as an intern in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, in which graduates go to Japan for up to five years to teach English. It will be his third trip to the island nation, where he also plans to use some of his free time to develop games independently to keep his computer programming skills sharp.

“I discovered what I like to do, and I discovered what I want to go into,” Chavez says. “And I think that’s what Sac State helped me find.”