Feature Stories

A Smart Tomboy Who Loves Equations and Engineering: Meet Tia Montalto

Tia Montalto was recently named the Oustanding Senior in the Department of Engineering Technology. 

Tia Montalto is a tomboy who’d rather talk about cars with the guys than sit in a nail salon with the girls. And she’s a smart tomboy to boot. She has a perfect grade point average, a 4.0, and the Newark College of Engineering recently named her the Outstanding Senior in the Department of Engineering Technology. 

Two years ago, Tia transferred to NJIT from Middlesex County College, where she earned her associate’s degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET). She came to NJIT with the same major -- MET -- and a passion for math, engineering and hands-on learning -- a passion that translated into all A’s. In this interview, she talks about her tomboy girlhood and how she evolved into a top engineering student.    

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Your father loved cars. Did he influence you when you were a girl?

My father was a mechanic who also owned an auto-parts store in Sayreville, N.J. When I was a girl, I would hang out in the store with my brother and sister. We used to make paper funnels and sell them for 25 cents. Customers would use them instead of buying plastic oil funnels for their cars. They were a big hit. I used to make deliveries for my dad and I learned a lot about cars from him. In our house, we didn’t have kitty calendars hanging on the wall:  We had muscle car calendars. I bought my first car when I was 15. It was a 5-speed Saturn SC2 (GM). We all used to work on our cars together. In the woods behind our house we had a wooden shack where my brother and I used to build and repair BMX bikes. I was then and still am a tomboy.

What were your interests in high school?

In my junior and senior year of high school, I took auto shop as an elective. It was my favorite class. My teacher said that one day he’d like to see me design a car engine. I was pretty much the only girl in the class and the boys didn’t want to work with me.  Now, I hope one day to design an engine.

How’d you get interested in engineering?

I always loved math, especially equations, and have been in advanced math since grade school. I liked science also so I started as chemistry major at Middlesex County College. Two weeks into the first semester, though, I dropped my classes -- I hated it. I went to a career counselor at the college and took an aptitude test. It came back saying I should study mechanics or engineering. I asked what engineering major was the most hands-on and I discovered Mechanical Engineering Technology, a major for students who like to design and build. I switched to MET and have loved it ever since. 

How’d you get to NJIT?

My professors at Middlesex told me NJIT had a strong MET program. Middlesex also has a transfer agreement with NJIT that made it easy for me to transfer my credits here. I also had a NJ Stars Scholarship from high school that also transferred to NJIT. That scholarship will help me graduate in May without debt.

What are your plans for after NJIT?

I went to the NJIT Career Fair last fall and found a paid internship for this summer.  I’ll work for AMETEK Materials Analysis Division as a Manufacturing Engineer. The company makes spectrometers for scientists. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll get work experience and that’s what students need to get hired full time.  

You’re graduating with a 4.0 and an Outstanding Senior Award. What motivates you to do well?

My parents have always pushed my brother, sister and me to do well in school -- they instilled that in us. My boyfriend, Walter Vittitoe, also encourages me. He’s a Manufacturing Engineer at Weiss-Aug. He graduated last year from NJIT also as the Outstanding Senior in Engineering Technology, so we share many interests.  My parents are hard workers, but they are far from rich, so I wanted to do well to get a scholarship. Even with the scholarship, though, I worked two jobs when I was at Middlesex, as a waitress and in a bakery. I don’t mind working hard and I always strive for the best in life.

By Robert Florida