Elaine Gomez Won a Full Scholarship to Columbia University

Elaine Gomez, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, will attend Columbia University in the fall.

Elaine Gomez entered NJIT as a freshman with major achievements and will graduate in May with many more: Princeton, Columbia and Rice universities have accepted her into their Ph.D. programs. All three also awarded her Presidential Fellowships.

It was a hard decision, but after careful deliberation Elaine picked Columbia. She likes the idea of living in NYC and it's close to her home in Union City. She was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that will pay her $40,000 to do research on carbon dioxide at Columbia -- research she also worked on at NJIT.

Elaine, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, will be living in Manhattan and attending one of the nation's elite universiites. But her beginnings couldn’t be more humble.

She’s a first-generation college student -- her parents didn’t attend college -- who grew up in Union City, a low-income city and school district. But at Union City High School she had a science teacher, Nadia Makar, who introduced her to the elegance of science. That was all she needed to excel. 

As a senior at Union City High, Elaine won third place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Competition, the most prestigious science contest in the nation. She won for researching the sources of pollution at Jamaica Bay, N.Y. That same year she was named a Gates Millennium Scholar, which means Bill Gates, through his foundation, paid for her NJIT education. She was also part of Project SEED, run by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which offers summer research experiences to economically disadvantaged high school students. She participated also in the ACS Scholars Program, an undergraduate scholarship program for students from under-represented minority groups majoring in and planning a career in the chemical sciences.

At NJIT, Elaine’s achievements were myriad. She’s won a host of awards, scholarship and other honors. She did a research project where she used an ammonia scrubbing system to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That research resulted in her co-authoring an article for a science journal. She belongs to the Albert Dorman Honors College and has worked for six different organizations either as a researcher, an intern or a technician. During her internship at Chemtura Corporation, she planned experiments and collected data for the U.S Navy. Most recently, in honor of all her achievements, the Newark College of Engineering gave her the Madame Mau Outstanding Female Engineering Award. 

In this interview, Elaine talks about the highlights of her NJIT education and her future plans.

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Why did you choose to come to NJIT?

I knew the university pretty well.  During high school, I had taken math classes at NJIT for college credit through the Center for Pre-College Programs.  And my high school science teacher and mentor, Nadia Makar, who I revere, suggested I attend the Honors College here. Also, President Bloom (then dean of the Honors College) and Mrs. Chipepo-Hulin (assistant dean in Honors) made great convincing statements on how NJIT and the Honors College would prepare me to reach my grad school goal (they were right!)

What have been the highlights of your years at NJIT?

Attending the Provost Summer Research Program was a big highlight. That summer, I had started research with Professor Robert Barat and developed a passion for chemical engineering. Professor Barat’s enthusiasm for keeping the unit operations lab experiments relevant inspired me to explore an academic career track. I also enjoyed the Research Poster Showcases and publishing a paper in a science journal.

What are your fondest NJIT memories?

Tutoring EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) students my freshman year through the Honors College. I highly enjoyed helping my peers. I had a blast during my tutoring sessions; especially when, being just a freshman, I’d have a roomful of students to help in CAPE (The Center for Academic and Personal Enrichment). And although I was there to tutor math to other freshman students, I could never turn down chemistry questions.

I also loved sitting outside during Relay for Life (the cancer fund-raiser) events with Assistant Dean Lois Chipepo-Hulin; those events were really special to me, not only for the cause, but for the unity that NJIT students and faculty showed. I’ll also never forget running for short coffee breaks with fellow chemical engineering majors before spending hours on our Plant Design Projects.

What will you miss about NJIT?

I will miss interacting with the Chemical Engineering Department faculty on a daily basis. All the professors are very accessible and give great advice. They really made NJIT feel like home.

Do you think NJIT prepared you well for grad school?

While NJIT is known to prepare engineers for industry, I think I did receive the right guidance to begin this next step in my life. I can definitely say I have a strong foundation in chemical engineering thanks to NJIT. The chemical engineering curriculum has taught me how to study and how to tackle challenging material. 

Are you looking forward to graduate school?

YESS!! I’ve been working toward this goal since I was a little girl in grammar school. I may not have known then all that obtaining a doctorate would entail -- but even now, fully aware of the arduous road ahead of me, I cannot wait to start.

By Robert Florida