We Are Cpp

Ramiro Montiel

On a Journey to Discover Community and Career, a Former Foster Youth Finds His Place at Cal Poly Pomona and in New York City

Ramiro Montiel

Marketing Management

Class of 2016

You see it all the time in movies and television shows about New York City.

A plucky young outsider driven to make their dreams come true gets a one-way ticket to the big city, arriving wide-eyed and eager to prove they can make it.

For Ramiro Montiel, life kind of imitated art. He really did arrive in the city that never sleeps with a one-way plane ticket in 2016.

But unlike some of those fictional characters deboarding with little more than lint in their pockets and hope in their hearts, Ramiro (’16, marketing management) arrived with a job at HBO, a relocation allowance, and a generous first salary as an executive assistant with the entertainment behemoth.

Now, the 29-year-old works at another industry giant, SHOWTIME, a Paramount Global Company, and is tasked with strategizing how best to drive viewership and subscriptions across original series, films, and sports programming through integrated paid media efforts, while leading marketing strategy, audience development and media insights.

“It’s been a unique career journey — a riveting experience, and I am grateful for it,” says the Southern California native. “I am at the stage in my life when I look back and wonder how in the hell did this happen.”

How it happened is a storyteller’s dream.

A Brother's Love

What was that about pluckiness?

Oh yeah. Ramiro arrived as a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona with plenty of that. But before the scene could be shot, he needed to ground himself in a world that from birth had been shifting under his feet.

Ramiro, the youngest of five children, went into foster care when he was 3 months old. Social services removed all the siblings from an abandoned Compton trailer park where they lived with their parents, citing severe neglect and dispersing them to different foster homes.

Enrique Montiel (’06, sociology), the second eldest child, recalls how he and his brothers and sister were put in a car and dropped off at different Department of Children and Family Services offices, saying their quick goodbyes. Enrique, who was 9 at the time, and Ramiro were the last to be separated.

“I kissed him on his forehead and didn’t see him for three years after that,” Enrique says.

Three years after the siblings were dispersed into foster care, their father died. Their mother died the following year.

Ramiro would go on to live in 24 foster homes, a blur of Southern California cities — Hacienda Heights, Baldwin Park, San Dimas, Lynwood, Compton, Rialto, Corona, Hesperia, La Puente, Southgate, Pico Rivera.

In the meantime, Enrique was experiencing a similar continual shift, living in 11 homes in 11 years.

Yes, this is Ramiro’s story, but you can’t tell it without Enrique.

Enrique always excelled in school. Without any guidance from his foster families, he knew he could be successful in college. The statistics for youth aging out of the system served as motivation, he says. Less than 3 percent of foster youth go on to earn a college degree, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. Around 20 percent become instantly homeless after aging out, and only 50 percent find employment by age 24.

Enrique enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona after high school and also was accepted into Renaissance Scholars, an academic and social support program on campus for foster and former foster youth. The program, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has been supported by nearly 650 donors and $2.5M since its inception.

Although he had the smarts, Enrique says he lost focus once at the university. He was on academic probation when he went to visit Ramiro and their sister Magdalena, who would later graduate from Cal State Fullerton.

“When I visited them, they would be struggling in their foster homes,” Enrique says. “Ramiro and Maggie asked, ‘Would it ever be possible for you to take care of us?’ That changed my mindset. I didn’t want my brother and sister to be raised by strangers. I didn’t want to be a negative statistic. Also, I noticed that my siblings were looking up to me.”

Enrique got back on track, earned his degree and began a career in social work. He also became a foster parent to Ramiro and Maggie, then teenagers. He remains in the field, serving as the program director at the Orangewood Foundation, an Orange County-based foster care agency. Taking on the responsibility of parenting when he was barely into adulthood himself was not easy, Enrique says.

“At 21 years old, I had to become a parent and I was still trying to figure out my life,” he says. “Having to fluctuate between father and brother was one of the most difficult jobs I took on. I had to be hard on my brother and sister while also being nurturing.”

Ramiro remembers that time well.

“Going under his guidance was eye-opening,” he says of Enrique. “Early on, he instilled in me, ‘I’m not your father. I’m your brother. My job is to ensure you have a roof over your head, food in your stomach and that you are able to go on in life and succeed.’”

Ramiro sometimes acted out as a teenager and felt overwhelmed by what happened to him as a child.

“My brother helped with my thought process,” Ramiro says. “He taught me what it meant to be human, seen, loved, cared for, and to be benevolent towards others, despite my upbringing. Life is not all about me. A great volume of my success is attributed to my brother. He was very hard on me, tough love if you will, but he had to be that way in order for me not to take life or any opportunity for granted.”

Becoming More Himself

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Ramiro enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona, where he became more himself — tapping into his natural drive, determination and talent — to find his passion and purpose.

Through his own involvement in Renaissance Scholars, Ramiro became more focused.

Program coordinator Makeda Bostic (’05, psychology) recalls that when Ramiro first got involved, he had a “too cool for school” air about him.

“Ramiro has always been very creative and very charismatic,” Bostic says. “At one point, he didn’t know how to channel that charisma. He didn’t know how much of an impact that charisma had on others and how dynamic he is.”

By his second year, he started to grow and mature, Bostic says. Ramiro began to think about where he would like to see himself after graduation and gained an understanding of the impact of college on his future and his family.

Sara Gamez, director for Student Support and Equity Programs, was the Renaissance Scholars coordinator when Ramiro arrived. Gamez (’04, liberal studies), a former foster youth, was in the program herself as a student with Enrique. She also spent some time overseeing Cal State Fullerton’s program for foster youth, so she knew their sister Magdalena as well.

Gamez could see early on that Ramiro had the hunger to succeed.

“He was definitely an awesome student with a lot of personality, he was destined to do great things and change the outcome of his life.”

Once Ramiro focused on pursuing a career in entertainment, he really took off.

While an undergraduate, he had internships at five companies — Warner Bros., HBO in Los Angeles, FOX Entertainment, HBO in New York and Lions Gate Entertainment. In his senior year, Ramiro also worked at J61Media, a small media production company, leading strategy, advertising and creative efforts.

“My internships exposed me to multiple worlds within the entertainment industry, which allowed me to see the work and power it takes to greenlight, develop, strategize, and launch a TV series or film across many business verticals!” he says.

His foray into the entertainment industry came at a time of big changes.

“In 2014, I vividly recall the days of ongoing industry disruptions. HBO Go was in full swing, HBO Now was announced to launch in 2015. Netflix was optimizing its platform month-over-month, while also making big streaming launches internationally, and the evaluation of broadcast cable was a top conversation. It was palpable that media and entertainment was being shifted into a new space.”

 The internships, along with the relationships he built with his managers, mentors and vendors, helped him gain an understanding of entertainment and fueled his relentless curiosity.

Ramiro landed his first internship in the marketing department at Warner Bros. through United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that focuses on former foster youth in Los Angeles County. Next, through continuous networking and with the help of United Friends, he secured an interview at HBO in Los Angeles and landed his second internship.

“I realized that if I could get internships that pay, I could help pay the bills and could also learn at the same time,” he says.

“That changed the trajectory of my career. I learned the importance of networking and connecting with people, getting out of the box.”

Professor Kristen Schiele had Ramiro in a few of her classes and remembers how he brought all of his knowledge, experiences and work ethic with him. “He was just such a great student,” says Schiele, now an associate professor of social media and digital marketing at USC.

When I had him in my class, I was like, ‘Students like you are the reason why I want to teach.’ He was so driven. Not only was he able to understand the concepts, but he could apply them to the real world. He really contributed to the class discussions.”

It was a return to HBO for another internship, this time in New York, that created a shift in him. It was the first time Ramiro had been on a plane and truly left California.

“New York was a game changer! It broke down barriers. I was halfway across the country in meetings and in rooms filled with brilliant minds. My multicultural marketing internship ignited my curiosity for international and digital marketing.”

At the end of summer 2015, Ramiro returned to Los Angeles and secured a final undergrad internship with Lionsgate as an international television marketing intern, doing exactly what he had intended to learn and experience. These internships also inspired him academically. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona, also picking up two minors in international business and public relations.

Ramiro’s tenacity and drive, forged by his upbringing, kept him motivated to push for more opportunities. He contacted internship or human resources representatives at Disney, Netflix and Hulu and didn’t take rejection as the final word, staying in touch with some of those who told him no.

“My hellish adolescent memories in the system kept me going throughout high school and my undergrad college career — especially early adulthood,” he says. “I never wanted to experience that type of fear or discomfort as an adult. Everything I strived for was done with excellence, backed with resiliency and integrity, and a hunger to learn and grow.

“My brother had said, ‘How you handle this life will determine how you do in the future, where you sleep, where you eat, what you become. You don’t have a safety net like everyone else. You will work and take care of yourself.’ These experiences and internships did take a toll on my GPA. But to me, the work was meaningful. The work would help me build a career and ultimately, I have a life to truly call my own.

“When I was growing up, I couldn’t control my destiny. Now, I can control whatever I want. I can become whatever I want.”

Hitting His Stride

After graduating, Ramiro took a professional internship at Disney ABC Television Group, but his housing situation was unstable. He was renting rooms off of Craigslist and moved three times in less than four months before finding a more stable spot in Baldwin Park.

After giving a speech at a nonprofit event in 2016, Ramiro was exiting the stage when someone pulled him aside and introduced him to Richard Plepler, then CEO of HBO. They talked about Ramiro’s previous internships at the company and discussed a potential full-time job after the Disney internship.

A month and a half after the HBO conversation, Ramiro says his “life was in flames.” He found out his post-graduate internship at Disney would not turn into a permanent gig and his funds were running low. He was looking for jobs, went through a breakup with a longtime girlfriend and got into an accident that totaled his car.

The HBO opportunity came at the right time. The company hired him as the executive assistant to both the senior vice president of Digital Media and Marketing and the vice president of Digital Media and Acquisition. Ramiro worked his way up to a specialist role, contributing to the integrated paid media campaigns across original series, documentaries, sports, news, podcasts and multicultural marketing campaigns.

Alissa Tofias, vice president of media at Nickelodeon, worked with Ramiro for about five years when she was at HBO.

Ramiro had been working as her boss’ assistant for a couple of years when he expressed an interest in joining the media team. He came in as a coordinator of media strategy during a time when the team was transitioning from a digital focus to a more integrated media approach, Tofias says.

“Ramiro is just a lover of learning and a lover of really digging in, being able to figure stuff out and making himself a little uncomfortable for learning and growing,” Tofias says. “He is very determined, very passionate with boundless energy and has one of the biggest hearts ever seen in the way he treats coworkers and teammates.”

He has the type of passion that can't be cultivated but also must be harnessed, she adds.

“He’s like a sponge. He soaks up information and is constantly asking for more things to learn, more exposure on projects,” Tofias says. “He is always looking for ways to connect the dots, to see and understand the big picture and how things work together.”

After more than five years, Ramiro moved on to SHOWTIME in January to take on a senior manager role, leading integrated paid media, marketing strategy and insights. He enjoys reading the scripts of the shows he is promoting, watching early pilots, and coming up with marketing strategies and audience approaches.

It’s the type of marketing where the science meets art.

“It all comes down to having a creative lens while balancing your quantitative and analytical skills,” he says. “It can be stressful because I am very passionate about my work, but I love my job. It never feels mundane or boring because I have to tap into different sides of my brain to market shows that are very different from one another.”

He credits supportive and encouraging managers who provided him with new opportunities for projects and leadership for his career success.

Ramiro is not done striving. He has set his sights on graduate school, with an aim of earning his MBA.

Giving Back

One key lesson Ramiro has learned from his life experiences is the importance of giving back.

He serves on the advisory board committee for The Door, a New York City nonprofit that focuses on underrepresented youth up to age 24, including those in the foster care system, in need of aid. The organization also provides healthcare, tutoring, legal services and resources for the homeless.

While at HBO he served as the co-chair for HBO’s Latino employee business resource group, Alianza. And recently, he spoke to Schiele’s class at USC, a digital marketing course for undergraduate business students and MBA candidates.

Ramiro is on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council for Showtime Networks Inc., and has long been a community volunteer for United Friends of the Children, the Los Angeles nonprofit that helped him land his first internship. He is also a participant in VECINOS Collective, a Latinx group building inclusion and empowerment within media and entertainment.

Ramiro and Enrique have returned several times to the Renaissance Scholars’ Thanksgiving dinner that provides students with a welcoming family-style meal.

Contributing to the wider community is a big part of Renaissance Scholars, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In addition to the activities and educational enrichment opportunities, the scholars also perform community service, such as beach cleanups for Pomona Beautification Day and helping at food banks.

“We teach that you don’t necessarily have to donate money,” Gamez says. “There are so many ways of giving.”

Bostic says the last time she connected with Ramiro was during the program’s annual winter retreat earlier this year. He and a handful of alumni joined the event online and shared words of encouragement.

“Whenever we have giving day or other opportunities to give, Ramiro and Enrique have supported that by spreading the word,” Bostic says.

Cherrie Peters, a counselor in the Career Center, says she first met Ramiro as a student volunteer at a career fair and he quickly became a fixture at the center. They kept in touch after graduation, and Ramiro has always been willing to lend a hand, including serving on a virtual career panel.

Ramiro has always been very welcoming to help any student I send his way. When a student knows, ‘Hey, that is someone like me, and I could potentially be that alum one day,’ it helps them build that esteem and realize they can get where they want to go.”

Finding Home

Ramiro found his career path in the entertainment industry. The big move to New York City showed him where he belongs and that he does belong.

From his Upper East Side apartment, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just a mile away and Central Park is his backyard. He runs the local streets, training for the New York City Marathon, which he completed in November in a time of 3:30:05. For Ramiro, 20 blocks is “totally walkable,” and he can easily pick the best coat for the day’s weather forecast.

Ramiro, who is Chicano, also embraces the mix of cultures for which his adopted hometown is known.

“I like the pulse of New York and its fast pace,” he says. “I also love the culture. I feel the culture. I can be ordering a stuffed ’Hungry Man’ on a hero at a bodega adjacent to a Jewish-style deli, where outside there’s a sea of Puerto Ricans, Greeks, Polish, Dominicans, Irish, Koreans, and many more ethnicities going on about their day, minding their own business. It’s just a mix of people and culture. New York is home!”