Efficiency is his passion: Meet Joseph Gonzales

Joseph Gonzales, NCE's Outstanding Industrial Engineering Senior

Early on in life, growing up in Peru, Joseph Gonzales learned the value of efficient thinking. Both of his parents ran small businesses -- his mother a bakery, his father a distribution warehouse -- and if they did businesses efficiently, they made money. If they did business inefficiently, they lost it. That was that. 

Much of business efficiency has to do with numbers – pricing products and managing inventory and, growing up in such an environment, Joseph took an early interest in mathematics -- a subject that ever since elementary school he excelled in.

In Lima, Joseph attended an elite military high school, Manuel Polo Jimenez, which focuses on math and science.  The school was strict, demanding and efficient.  Students wore uniforms and teachers tyrannically enforced strict grooming rules.  If Joseph’s hair was anything beyond crew-cut length, a teacher would grab a tuft of it and yank it upward, asking: “Joseph, do you want to go to heaven?” Or the teacher would yank his hair downward and mockingly ask him: “Or would you prefer to go to hell?”  If Joseph came late to a class, his teacher would make him run laps. Lots of laps. 

The school’s strictness, though, was a function of its military precision and efficiency and Joseph, a lover of mathematical efficiency, excelled there. One year, students from the school competed in a nation-wide math and science competition: Joseph took first place.  Peru ranks its high school students by subject and, during his sophomore year, Joseph ranked 12th in the nation in mathematics.

But when he was 14, his family decided to leave Peru. The economy had grown unstable and his parents believed America would be more stable. The family settled in Carteret, N.J., a town filled with immigrants.  Joseph, who had an elementary understanding of English, enrolled as a junior in Carteret High School.  Perhaps because of his slight grasp of English the school placed him in ESL classes as well as in basic-skills math.  Joseph was disheartened.

He was so bored in his math class – so unchallenged – that some days he didn’t want to go to school.  He told his parents, who spoke to school administrators.  They refused to move him up to an advanced math class. Then one day, Joseph met two new Asian students who had just arrived in America and just enrolled at Carteret High.  The two knew virtually no English, yet were placed in advanced math and science. Joseph again appealed to the school administration, asking to be promoted to calculus and physics. An administrator then gave him a somewhat odd and difficult ultimatum: if he were to take the final exams for calculus and physics and pass them, then he could advance into those classes.  Joseph is the kind of student who likes to excel in everything he does (he’s a former soccer standout), especially math.  So the next day he confidently hurried to school to take final exams for classes he wasn’t even in. 

Nonetheless, he aced the exams, and the school was compelled to promote him to calculus and physics.  He was happy, but sensed that he had been pigeonholed.  “I think the administration might have stereotyped me,” said Joseph, “Because I was Latino and didn’t know English well they though I wasn’t good in math and science.  But they placed the two Asian students, who knew no English, in advanced math.  In the end, though, it worked out. I graduated at the top of my senior class.”

After he graduated, Joseph enrolled in Middlesex County College and later in Essex County College. His parents, who were middle class in Peru, were struggling to find their way in America and he was still struggling to learn English.  But he aced his math and science classes in county college and transferred to NJIT.

It was the best decision he ever made. At NJIT, he majored in industrial engineering (IE), a field that stresses quantitative precision and efficiency – his two loves.  After his first semester at NJIT he made it onto the dean’s list – a list his name has continually appeared on.  He excelled in his classes, maintaining a near perfect grade-point average of 3.909.  During his second year, he enrolled in the prestigious Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT.

His NJIT professors noted that Joseph was not only bright and industrious -- this semester for instance he’s taking 8 classes -- but amicable and outgoing, a team player who enjoyed tutoring his fellow students. Students respect him for his intellect and like him for his generosity. He’s done so well in IE that he’ll soon begin taking graduate-level classes. Those courses, offered through the BS/PhD program, will count towards his doctorate, a degree that Joseph is determined to get. 

He’s also involved civically at NJIT.  He is the director of Programs and Membership for the Institute of Industrial Engineer’s student chapter, and belongs to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (the group, known as SHPE, helps Hispanic students excel in engineering, math and science). He is also in the process of joining Lambda Sigma Upsilon, a Latino fraternity at NJIT.

Joseph is also a talented researcher.  Under the direction of Professor Golgen Bengu, he’s researching ways to make NJIT’s Computer Help Desk more efficient. He’s doing a second research project, guided by Professor Layek Abdel-Malek, whose aim is to help retailers better control their inventories.  Recently, recognizing Joseph’s myriad successes, the Newark College of Engineering named him its Outstanding Industrial Engineering Senior – the highest honor the college bestows.

This summer, Joseph will intern at Intel, the world's largest semiconductor company. He’ll work in Intel’s Arizona office, where he’ll focus on fulfillment, planning and logistics.  He’ll travel to Intel’s West Coast offices, helping Intel become more efficient in planning and logistics -- a job he’s ideally suited for. Wal-Mart Stores and Texas Instruments offered him summer internships, but he opted for Intel, where he can best call upon his life-long love of efficiency.  If at the end of the internship Intel offers him a full-time job, he says he’ll take it. But he will continue to study, in the evenings, for his doctorate.

Joseph is excited about his future – working in a field he loves for prominent company, pursuing his doctorate – and he’s grateful to the university that helped him reach his intellectual potential.

“Ever since I was a little boy,” he recalls, “my parents told me ‘a good education was the key to a successful life. Nobody can ever take your education away from you.’ I’m thankful to NJIT for giving me an education that no one will ever take away from me.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)