Meet Gates Scholar Elaine Gomez

The second-richest man in the world pays for Elaine Gomez to attend NJIT.

Elaine is a Gates Millennium Scholar, which means Bill Gates, by way of his foundation, pays her tuition.  Elaine, a freshman at NJIT, won the scholarship when she was a senior at Union City High School. The scholarship pays for her undergraduate education will pay for graduate study, too.    

Elaine won another major award when she was a senior in high school: She took third place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  With 1,600 top students from 60 countries competing, Intel is the most prestigious high school science fair in the world.  Elaine won third place in the environmental science category. She won for researching the sources of pollution in a wildlife refuge at Jamaica Bay, N.Y.  

With two major awards, Elaine could have attended any college in the nation.  But she chose to attend the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT.  For one, she knew the university well.  During high school she had taken math classes at NJIT for college credit (the Union City school district pays for students to attend the Center for Pre-College Programs).  And her high school science teacher, Nadia Makar, suggested NJIT to her. 

Elaine reveres Makar, who she refers to as a “phenomenal teacher and mentor… a second mother to me.”  Makar has won a host of teaching awards, including the 1989 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  She was invited to the White House to receive that award.  Every year, Makar usually sends a few of her top seniors, like Elaine, to NJIT.  Elaine came to NJIT in the fall and just completed her freshman year.  She majors in chemical engineering and minors in environmental engineering.   

“I’m blessed to have gifted students like Elaine,” says Makar, who is now Science Department Chair of Union City High’s Academy for Enrichment & Advancement.  “I refer them to NJIT because it’s a great university and they continue to excel there.”

Makar noted that one NJIT professor took a special interest in one of her former students, Eric Plaud, also now a chemical engineering major at NJIT.  Plaud wanted to spend a semester abroad in England and Professor Reginald Tompkins travelled with Plaud to England to help him get acclimated to the program and the country.

“NJIT professors like Reggie look after my students,” said Makar. “You don’t find that at the bigger universities.  My former students also get chances to do good research at NJIT.”

Elaine is doing precisely that.  She’s assisting Professor Robert Barat with research that, if successful, will help mitigate the effects of global warming.  In her research, Elaine uses an ammonia scrubbing system to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  In the Chemical Engineering Lab, she uses an apparatus that has elaborate columns and tubes through which gas streams and CO2 flow. She attempts to remove the CO2 from the gas streams by scrubbing it with ammonia-laced water. 

If successful, the scrubbing system could one day be used to prevent coal and oil-fired power plants from releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.  Elaine’s research is sponsored by the Provost’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, a new program that gives undergraduates the chance to do research with top professors.  

Elaine is a first-generation college student.  Neither of her parents attended college, and Union City is a low-income city and school district. Yet she is excelling at NJIT.  Her grade-point average is close to perfect and after she graduates she hopes to earn doctorate in environmental science.  She plans to work as a researcher for a university or work for the Environmental Protection Agency in the area of water quality.

“I'm receiving great education at NJIT,” says Elaine, “and have been given the opportunity to do research.  I live on campus but am close to my home in Union City.  I feel that by the time I graduate from NJIT I'll be well prepared for graduate school.  I hope one day to do research in environmental science that will improve our environment.”

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)