Paul Dupiano: A Student with Two Engineering Majors, Two Minors and a Love of Learning

Paul Dupiano has an unbridled passion for learning.  Unlike most of today’s college students, he’s not a careerist – one who sees an undergraduate degree as an avenue to a high-paying job.  Rather, he likes learning for its own sake.  So much so that he has two majors – electrical and computer engineering and chemical engineering -- as well as two minors, applied math and philosophy.  At a rigorous school like NJIT, students work hard to excel in one engineering major.  Paul excels in two.  He’s a senior, yet he’s already amassed 145 credits; he’ll accumulate dozens more before he graduates.  Yet despite his heavy class load, he maintains a 3.68 GPA, and he’s a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College.    

He’s also an adept researcher.  The Defense Intelligence Agency has awarded him two $5,000 fellowships. The awards support his research in infrared technology.  Specifically, he designs infrared systems that can be used for chemical detection and environmental monitoring.  Satellites also use infra-red detection systems, and his research could one day enhance the NASA satellites that encircle the earth.  

“Paul is a very dedicated researcher,” says Professor Haim Grebel, who co-directs his research.  “Paul spends a lot of time in the Electronic Imaging Center working on simulations of infrared filters.  It’s important research and his winning this award is a big deal.  In the past, two other NJIT students won this fellowship, and they both found jobs working for the U.S. Army.”

Paul, though, doesn’t want to work for the U.S. Army.  He doesn’t want to work for a corporation, and he doesn’t want a job related to either of his majors.  His mother, moreover, wants him to attend medical school but he doesn’t want to do that, either.  After he graduates, he wants to attend graduate school to study the subject he loves most.  In this interview, Paul talks about his passion for that subject.  He also discusses his two majors, his research and why it is he loves to learn so much about so many subjects. 

You have two majors: electrical and computer engineering and chemical engineering.   Most students struggle to keep up with one engineering major.  Why do you have two?
I have two majors because I’ve always wanted to learn everything about anything.  If I could manage the work, I’d add a third major: mechanical engineering.   As science and engineering progress, we’ll eventually need individuals who can bridge the gaps between various specialties.  Unfortunately, all science is now specialized – so much so that people speak different languages.   By specializing in multiple fields, some beyond the engineering field, I hope to work as the conduit for team projects. While I may not excel in each field, I’m hopeful that my varied background will help me understand the nuances of each field.  No one works alone in engineering anymore; you will find yourself working in teams with individuals of drastically different backgrounds.  NJIT’s diverse environment has prepared me to work with people of every creed and color, while my majors will help me integrate my plans with people from different fields. 

How do you keep up with the work load?
I tend to skip my homework and instead work on projects that help me understand the concepts I need to do well in the course. For example, when I took fluid dynamics, rather than do homework problems from the book, I designed a system of pipes filled with water that would act as a calculator. Since I was taking logic for my electrical and computer engineering major at the time, I found a way to make a binary calculator using pipes, valves, and regular plain old water.  I admit that it sometimes hurts me when I don’t do my homework but I regularly keep up a 30– 40 hour job while taking 20+ credits a semester, so sometimes doing extra work is out of my hands.

How do you scheduling all your classes?
I normally like to schedule myself in such a way that I don’t have any down time while I’m at NJIT.  Think of high school, where you go from class to class until you go home. That’s what my schedule is like.  Sometimes I get lucky with the scheduling but other times I don’t, and that’s when I suffer.  Next semester, I hope to take somewhere around 24+ credits.  No matter how hard things get, I seem to manage.  I’m willing to trade sleep for work.  I average 3 to 4 hours of sleep during school days and about 8 hours on the weekends.  I usually work a part-time job outside of NJIT.

You also do research here, research that is supported by two $5,000 fellowships from the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Can you describe your research?
We are currently working on a way of improving our ability to detect spectral signals, electromagnetic radiation, in the infrared region.  Infrared signals are important because they are emitted by everything that has kinetic energy (or a temperature). We are able to detect planets, galaxies, stars and comets from the electromagnetic radiation we detect from the universe. We are working with metal meshes as special infrared detectors because they are lightweight and cheap, something suitable for satellites and other machines in space.

Your research is directed by two prominent professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  Can you describe what it’s like to be an undergraduate working with two leaders in their field?
Professors Haim Grebel and Peter Moeller are very caring mentors, despite their busy schedules and their daunting responsibilities.  Not only do they take the time to help me perform and analyze my work when I need it, but they are heavily invested in the work and check up on my research on a regular basis.  We have weekly meetings with everyone in our research group, including all of the graduate students. We keep each other updated and we offer help to anyone who needs it.  I've been very lucky with my research project; not only do I have mentors who want to help me with my work and my future, but I also get to work with graduate students who are friendly and thoughtful.  I always feel like I'm getting guided in the right direction. I know that after my research experience with this group, I’ll be able to conduct my own research.

While in high school you attended the science honors program at Columbia University.  And you graduated from Union High School ranked number one in your class.  Do things just come easily to you -- are you naturally smart? Or do your parents push you?
My parents push me, but to an extent. Their ultimate goal is to get me into medical school, but I simply want to learn more about the world.  They don’t push me too much as long as they think I will end up becoming a doctor.  I doubt that I’m naturally smart; I’m rather just the guy who’s willing to go all out for every project.   At the end of the day, I just hope that when I do my best, my best is worth an “A.” If I didn’t enjoy learning, I’m certain I would have one major with 14 credits a semester.

Your parents immigrated here from the Philippines.  Do they encourage you to excel academically and to achieve the American Dream of a social mobility?
My mom makes it perfectly clear that she wants me to go into medicine. She was in medical school in the Philippines and my father was a doctor.  Here in America they both work as nurses.  In many ways, I know that they want me to become a doctor to fulfill a dream neither of them could accomplish.   I hate disappointing my parents, and in fact I have followed their ideals my entire life.   I've hidden most of my academic pursuits from my mother because she blocks out any mention of anything besides med school.  I would be surprised if I could ever explain to them my reasons for doing what I do, and for not being interested in going to med school.  But I think they still respect me enough as a person and as their son, and they realize that I need to do what makes me happy.  In the end, I really can't ask for much more than that.

So what does make you happy? What do you plan to do after you graduate next year from NJIT?
I want to pursue philosophy.  I don’t fully understand or know where this path will take me, but my passion to learn has always guided me.  I will try to apply for a Rhodes scholarship and study abroad. I’d be the first at NJIT to win it, so I’m doubtful this will happen.  If I don’t end up studying abroad, I would like to either go to the University of California at Berkeley to study philosophy, or head to the University of Texas to study the metaphysics of free will.  I love philosophy and feel I can make a contribution to the field.  I’d also like to try to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities.  Right now, sadly, people in those two fields don’t talk or understand each other very.  With my background in engineering and math and physics, and a degree in philosophy, I’ll try to bridge that gap. 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)