Source: American Builders Quarterly
In the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion of 1965, and the nationwide racial reckoning that ensued, California Governor Pat Brown and other leaders recognized that a college location in the city of Carson would be an accessible option for minorities living nearby to pursue an education. That location would become home to California State University, Dominguez Hills, which has held true to that mission ever since, primarily serving underrepresented students seeking academic achievement and preparation for the workforce.
Today, leaders are looking to broaden the university’s impact on student experiences as it transitions from a commuter campus to a residential campus. As the associate vice president of facilities planning, design, and construction, Yancey Modesto is at the forefront of those efforts. Since stepping into the role in 2023, he has helped spearhead projects to upgrade old sites and build new ones for campus community members–all fueled by a need to serve university students.
“The diversity of this campus is remarkable compared to other campuses throughout the nation,” he says. “Being part of these developments and seeing how impactful we are to nearby communities is rewarding enough. But if you attend graduations, you see tons of families with first-generation graduates and that’s just another motivation to continue the work we’re doing.”
That work includes completing design plans for a new student Health and Wellness Recreation Center; renovating a science building for a new function; and an expansion of university utilities to support new infrastructure at California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA).
His work at Cal State LA also includes beefing up the university’s student housing stock through a 1,500-bedroom facility as a supplement to 2 other housing projects completed in the past few years. Prior to these developments, the university hadn’t built a housing complex since the 1980s for the Olympics. Modesto is excited to see how these additions will address student needs.
Yancey Modesto’s Journey to the Top
- 2001: Intern Architect at Ziegler Cooper Architects
- 2002: Intern Architect at Gabriel Architects
- 2005: Junior Project Manager at Lerner, Ladds, and Bartels
- 2010: Designer/Researcher at Gauche Concepts and Visiting Critic for Architecture Design Studios at Rhode Island School of Design
- 2011: Project Manager at LLB Architects
- 2012: Campus Developer at the University South Carolina
- 2018: University Planner at California State University, Office of the Chancellor
- 2019: Director of Planning, Design & Construction at California State University, Los Angeles
- 2023: Associate VP of Facilities Planning, Design & Construction at California State University, Dominguez Hills
“Our shift from being a commuter campus to a residential campus is bringing a lot of amenities and is changing the character and use of space not just during regular school hours, but after hours, because now we have a larger student population staying on campus. We’re investing in these things to support the students and to make sure it’s a full campus life experience for them.”
Before his role at Dominguez Hills, Modesto started his career with a decade of architecture and design experiences. While he enjoyed working on different building structures, he went on to give campus planning a shot in order to diversify his projects.
“On a campus, it’s like a small city you’re part of in the design and construction process. Being able to work on the variety of projects that comes with that is really amazing.”
Modesto took on his first campus planning job as a developer at the University of South Carolina before becoming a university planner at the California State University Chancellor’s office and a director of planning, design, and construction at Cal State LA.
From those experiences, he witnessed how strong collaboration made for better projects and better working relationships.
“You have to be able to listen and understand what the needs are,” he says. “You can’t establish a solution if you don’t know what the problem is. That’s why when you’re doing this kind of work, you need to hear concerns and capture your colleagues’ needs as it relates to the spaces they’re working in.”
Modesto’s advice for young people seeking success is that “there’s no replacement for hard work.”
“When I first immigrated to this country from the Philippines, I would walk every day to different jobs for several weeks, offering my résumé and looking for work,” he recalls. “I’ve came a long way from that, and it makes me proud. It just shows that if you’re patient in pursuing what you want to be and where you want to be, you’ll get there. Also, when an opportunity opens up, don’t be afraid to give it a try.”