When San Francisco native Robert Mau comes to work each day, he feels fortunate that he has a job he enjoys that advances a mission that he has thought about since childhood: making Muni work better. Robert also mentors other San Francisco youth through Muni’s partnership with Genesys Works, a nonprofit that links high school students with local employers.
His passion for paying it forward to this generation stems from his gratitude for an internship sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce back in the 1990s. That internship helped to motivate him to get into college and set him on the path to his current career in civil engineering.
Robert’s parents emigrated to San Francisco from China when he was 10 years old. His father worked in a garment factory in China Basin, and Robert assumed he would join his father working there. While he did well in school, he never considered going to college because of the cost. No one in his family had gone to college, and his parents were fervently against owing money so wouldn’t consider taking out loans.
Luckily, Robert joined the Finance Career Academy at Phillip & Sala Burton High School. Larry Stupski was on the board of the SF Chamber of Commerce at the time and encouraged Chamber members to host high school students as interns during the summer. Stupski was the former chief operating officer and president of The Charles Schwab Corporation, which partnered with Phillip & Sala Burton High School to provide students with a summer project and mentor.
While Robert valued the training he received at Schwab, the mentorship is what changed his life. First, his mentor provided the first model of how to interact with others in a professional environment. More importantly, when Robert told his mentor over lunch one day that he didn’t think he could go to college, his mentor spoke up: “You’d be crazy not to go to college. There are lots of scholarships out there, but even if you have to borrow money, do it! It’s more than worthwhile.”
Robert started to pay attention to scholarships for students like him, and he was awarded the Osher Foundation Incentive Award, which gave him a full ride to UC Berkeley along with career and academic guidance once he was there. Robert believes that his internship at Schwab was part of what made him distinctive from other candidates.
Robert earned his Bachelor’s degree in Physics at UC Berkeley and then attended SF State where he earned his Master’s in Civil Engineering. He joined the SFMTA immediately after graduating as a Junior Engineer working on the SFMTA buses that ran on overhead lines. He has since been promoted to a Project Manager with SFMTA’s Capital Programs and Construction division. He sees the work as a natural extension of his love of construction; “When I was a kid, I loved playing in sandboxes. Now I feel like the city is my sandbox.”
Robert finds great satisfaction in improving the public transit system his family and he relied upon when he was young. He eagerly serves as a mentor for many students who intern at the SFMTA. He is passionate about hosting interns because of the difference his short time at Schwab made in his life trajectory – and he hopes that someday, one of the students he is mentoring will say the same.