The University Student Union Presents

USU Personal Story: Isaac Simon

By Cheyenne Chavez, Student Public Relations Assistant, USU Marketing

Isaac Simon

What do a rock collection, a black belt, a tortilla factory and the University Student Union at CSUN all have in common? For Isaac Simon, Student Clerical Assistant II in USU Administration, these seemingly unrelated things represent four of the most memorable and influential experiences in his life.

Isaac was born on June 17, 1995 in Van Nuys, California to Juan and Maria Simon. As immigrants from Mexico, his parents had somewhat different journeys coming to the United States. Isaac’s dad came to Los Angeles from Sonora at the young age of five, but his mom didn’t arrive from Puebla until she was 18. The two first crossed paths when Maria, the daughter of a family friend, moved into the home of Juan’s mother in South Central LA. According to Isaac, it was not love at first sight. His future parents didn’t really like each other.

“My dad was a little bit full of himself — or so my mom says,” said Isaac. “Their relationship didn’t actually warm up until my dad went to college at UCLA to major in Chicano studies.”

Of course, the pair did end up falling in love, getting married and starting a family. The responsibility of being parents to Isaac and his older brother Esteban inspired his mother and father to be dedicated workers in their respective jobs. Maria worked at the De Neve Dining Hall at UCLA and Juan began his career at AIG Insurance in Woodland Hills as a quality assurance supervisor.

Simon Brothers Childhood PhotoGrowing up in Van Nuys, the two Simon brothers enjoyed a very normal and fun childhood. Whether they were playing sports at Balboa Park or getting into brotherly conflicts at home, they always found a way to stay active and have a good time.

Isaac’s education started at Valley Alternative Magnet, a small K-12 charter school with a strong sense of community. Every student knew each other and his parents were also very involved with the school.

“It was a great school and I really felt like I belonged there,” said Isaac. “I didn’t realize until later on that being so comfortable there with a close group friends, I didn’t really learn how to be very social. So, it wasn’t always easy for me to make new friends later in my life.”

Quiet and reserved as a child, Isaac found joy in getting involved in all kinds of different activities and being on the go. He played youth soccer for a year but was soon drawn to the martial art of taekwondo. It was around this time that he also started showing a unique affinity for rocks.

“When I was about 6, I started picking up rocks everywhere I went,” said Isaac. “I remember visiting family in Tijuana and seeing so many rocks in the backyard that I thought were pretty. I would just spend hours collecting them.”

On a family visit to the La Brea Tar Pits, his parents bought him a tiny jar of amethyst crystals. Isaac cherished those crystals. Now he looks back on them as the official start of his rock collection since they were the first he actually kept in a box for safekeeping. Little did he know that this early childhood hobby would so accurately foreshadow his future career path.

Isaac Simon in front of rock display“The only job I can really remember thinking about as a kid was being a chef… because I liked to experiment and create new things,” said Isaac. “But at that point, it hadn’t even occurred to me that something like rock collecting could lead me to an actual career.”

When Isaac finished the 7th grade, his parents made a life-changing decision. Juan and Maria decided to move to Hemet, California and start their own tortilla factory.

When the Simons arrived in their new city, they were able to buy a house with a yard, which Isaac loved, and the family even got a dog. Unfortunately, his transition into Acacia Middle School was not an easy one. It wasn’t an issue of being homesick because he genuinely liked Hemet, but his school life was difficult because he had a hard time making new friends and dealing with the way that other kids acted toward him.

“I was not treated well and I ate lunch alone every day as the new kid,” said Isaac. “I remember I was trying really hard to make a friend one day, but he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Why are you talking to me? I don’t want to be your friend.’ I was very sad in this new situation and didn’t know how to fix it.”

Isaac Simon TaekwondoBut Isaac didn’t let this difficult time affect him for long. He enjoyed spending more time with his family and practicing taekwondo. Isaac also began to understand the important lessons that his martial arts classes were teaching him. It helped him realize that he had some serious anger issues that were now being channeled and dealt with by his training.

“As a kid, I would have serious outbursts all the time. Honestly, if you told me, ‘Don’t be angry’, I would get even more angry,” said Isaac. “Taekwondo was the first experience I had where people made me confront my anger. It helped me master skills that define leadership, respect, self-control, discipline and it just made me more confident overall.”

Isaac went on to receive his black belt at the age of 13 and began leading classes on his own. Along with his growth through taekwondo, Isaac became very focused at school on the most difficult subject he had ever taken: An 8th grade algebra class with a teacher named Mr. Barb.

“It was a really hard class, but I noticed that I grasped many of the concepts much more quickly than other students,” said Isaac. “Although my 8th grade year was not fun for me socially, I do remember it being the year I began to really believe in my academic ability because of doing well in Mr. Barb’s class.”

The next year, Isaac moved on to Hemet High School where he had a much better experience that began with playing on the school’s soccer and volleyball teams. This three-year involvement with sports helped him break out of his shell and make a lot of new friends. It was shortly after that when Isaac began to seriously think about college. After taking biology, chemistry and physics his junior year, he “put two and two together” and realized that his passion for rocks and a newfound interest in science was now leading him in the direction of a career in geology.

Every day after school, Isaac went to work at his family’s tortilla factory, helping make the tortillas, cleaning the machines and restocking as needed. As things turned out, his parents eventually recognized that the operation simply would not generate enough revenue to hire more employees and still have enough money to support the family. The Simons decided to end the business and move back to Los Angeles to make a fresh start.

“When we closed the factory, it left a really bad taste in my mouth about running a business,” said Isaac. “Luckily, my parents recovered from it financially and found new jobs back in LA. We also became so much stronger as a family because we definitely needed each other during that hard time.”

The Simon family moved to Woodland Hills and Isaac enrolled for his senior year at Taft High School. While being uprooted in high school is traumatizing for some, Isaac says that he welcomed the chance to live in another new place. He had enjoyed his time in Hemet, but was happy to be back in the San Fernando Valley. He ended up having a great time at Taft, joined the soccer team and made more good friends at school.  As an unexpected bonus, he even attended two proms that year, one at Taft and one back in Hemet.

When it came time to apply for college, Isaac had a specific list of schools he wanted to attend — planning to follow his passion for geology. He applied to UCLA, University of California at Riverside, St. John’s University in New York and California State University, Northridge.

“I wanted to go to UCLA like my dad, but I was unfortunately not accepted to that school, nor at UC Riverside,” said Isaac. “I was happy to be offered an $11,000 scholarship from St. John’s, but the school didn’t have a geology program. CSUN was definitely my safety school, so at first I was bummed that’s where I was going to college, but I soon realized it was a great choice.”

Isaac began his CSUN journey in Fall 2013 as a geology major and decided to live in student housing for his first year. He wanted the classic college experience and that’s exactly what he got. He met a girlfriend his first semester and also became very close to his roommates and dorm neighbors, so he didn’t do much branching out initially.

With her previous experience working at a UCLA dining hall, Isaac’s mom had applied for a job at Geronimo’s near the CSUN dorms during his freshman orientation and soon began working there. A USU building manager who also worked at Geronimo’s told Maria about the many great jobs at the union and she encouraged Isaac to look into it. 

“I was working at a Ross store and my mom told me about the USU and how they were always hiring students,” said Isaac. “I applied for the clerical assistant position my freshman year, interviewed with Sharon Kinard (USU Manager, Administration and Communication) and never looked back.”

Isaac Simon participating in AS Elections DebateOver almost four years as a USU employee, Isaac has also become very involved with several other organizations on campus. He first joined the University Student Union Board of Directors Personnel Committee, which reviews USU Policies and Procedures. Then in the second semester of his sophomore year, Isaac ran as part of Jorge Reyes’ campaign for Associated Students office to be the A.S. Representative for the College of Science and Mathematics. He ended up receiving the most votes of all candidates running for the position.

“Fortunately, my involvement in the Geology Club and participation in geology field trips resulted in many fellow geology majors wanting to support me as the first student from our major to serve as the Science and Mathematics Representative,” said Isaac.

In his initial role with A.S., Isaac was inspired by the power students actually had to make a difference on campus if they just got involved. So Isaac really got involved. He was a presenter at the USU Student Summit four times, elected to be an A.S. Senator, selected as a board member for The University Corporation, invited to become a member of the N-Crowd, CSUN’s Alumni mentoring program, and also joined the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

“When I was introduced to members of SAE, I saw that so many of them were also student leaders, and I knew I wanted to join them,” said Issac.

Isaac Simon at Mono LakeIsaac has also thrived academically in his CSUN career. From being on several geology field trips, he had learned the valuable skills of camping and topography. He also took part in petrology professor Dr. Joshua Schwartz’s research on understanding the metamorphic and igneous development of New Zealand.

His most recent geology camping trips in Summer 2016 to the White Pine Ranges in Ely, Nevada and the White-Inyo Mountains near Big Pine, California have served as his capstone. The complete trip lasted a full month and Isaac’s 12-person cohort got to analyze local structural geologic features such as rock bodies that are faulted and folded. Their findings provided insight on the tectonic setting that caused the specific faults the group had analyzed. These analyses also allowed them to better understand the type of deformation that the region had undergone in the past.

Isaac Simon

“It was beautiful camping out and getting to be alone with nature and seeing the sights as well as the wild horses and rattlesnakes,” said Isaac. “We became very close as a group and it was a very successful capstone.”

So, what is Isaac’s next move? He plans to pursue a geological career in the field of mining. His rock collection has served him well as the initial inspiration for this new endeavor. He recently presented his senior thesis at the Geological Society of America Annual Conference in Denver. Now, after studying hard last summer to take and pass the GRE, Isaac has been accepted to the Colorado School of Mines, his top-choice graduate school and well renowned in his chosen field of mining. Isaac is excited to graduate from CSUN in the spring and move on to his graduate program next fall.

Like most of us, Isaac’s past experiences have had a major impact on him, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. A martial art that turned out to be the therapy he never knew he needed, a failed business venture that taught him the importance of family and a childhood rock collection that triggered his true passion in life — all of it is part of the journey that brought him to where he is now. Today, Isaac Simon is a successful CSUN student, a valued USU employee and a very happy guy looking forward to a bright future in grad school and beyond. 

Q&A: Isaac Simon

What is something that only a few people know about you?

Not many people know I have a black belt in taekwondo. I haven’t done it in awhile and I’m definitely not as flexible as I used to be, but I still have the knowledge and ability.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you find yourself?

I would like to travel everywhere because I love traveling. But I would really like to visit mine facilities in areas like Chile, Brazil and Canada. If I had to choose one place to travel for pleasure it would be Hawaii. I would love to take my family because it’s been a dream vacation of theirs for a long time.

What three traits define you?

One is being responsible. If it’s on my plate, I’m going to get it done. I also consider myself extremely goal-oriented. In addition, I really identify with my top talent theme in StrengthsQuest — Maximizer. It’s all about doing tasks to the best of your ability. I don’t like submitting assignments or getting any work done that isn’t my best effort. It doesn’t feel right to me.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your life thus far? 

Definitely the move to Hemet in 8th grade. I would not go as far as to say I was depressed at that time, but it definitely was nowhere near a highlight in my life. I didn’t yet have much confidence in myself.

Describe what you were like growing up.

I was very active and always involved in sports. I’ll also never forget my serious anger issues before doing taekwondo. It truly did help me grow out of that phase.

What do you think is the most important quality you need to have for success?

Persistence. You are not going to reach your goals on your first try. Even when you fail, the only way to ever rise from that is to keep trying.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

When I got a gold medal in taekwondo in a tournament at the age of 12. I would do well in practice but I was always really nervous when it came to tournaments and I would perform poorly. When I won that tournament it was such a big milestone for me.

You are happiest when?

I am happiest when I am outside, whether it be hiking in the mountains or camping. In my opinion, the less influence from society, the better. I like that feeling of being alone with nature.

What do you like to do in your spare time/days off?

I like trying new things all the time, especially things involving nature. I like trying out new hiking spots and visiting new places, like my recent trip to Colorado to meet my graduate school advisor. I also just went on my first hot air balloon ride, which was really fun!