George Roa’s mother will travel here from Venezuela to watch her son walk down the aisle to receive his diploma on May 26 from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
She’s proud of her son, and grateful. While pursuing his undergraduate degree at NJIT Roa worked full time, saving enough money to not only pay for his education but to buy his mother, Carmen Roa, an apartment in Caracas.
“My mother was divorced and was living with my younger brother in an unsafe neighborhood,” Roa recalled. “I was able to help her move to a safe neighborhood and also to pay her expenses. This way she didn’t have to worry so much. Between school and work, I worked so hard I didn’t have time for anything. But I was able to help my mother and my brother and that made me feel so good.”
Roa’s life is a classic American story of an industrious immigrant who uses education as an avenue to economic betterment for both him and his family.
Roa, 34, of Paterson, will graduate from NJIT on May 26 at the Continental Airlines Arena at the top of his class. He was named Outstanding Undergraduate Student by the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT. He majored in professional and technical communication and has a near-perfect cumulative grade-point average of 3.9. He was the first in his family to attend college.
“George came to America from Venezuela nine years ago seeking a better life,” said Burt Kimmelman, PhD, an associate’s professor of English in NJIT’s humanities department who is Roa’s academic adviser. “He left his family behind, diligently learned English and made his way into college, supporting himself as he went. His work at NJIT has been exemplary.”
In 1996, Roa came to America on a student visa. He was eager to master English. Back home, he worked as technician but he couldn’t figure out the instruction manuals written in English. He also loved American popular music – bands such as Metallica and Guns and Roses, but he couldn’t understand the lyrics. He also loved American films – “Raging Bull” and “Malcolm X,” but had to rely on the subtitles.
A year later, in 1997, he began taking classes at Passaic County College, in Paterson. Even though his grasp of English was tentative and he had to work full time, he earned an associate’s degree in computing-information systems. He graduated from the college in 2002 with the third highest cumulative-grade-point average in his class: 3.96. The college also gave him English as a second language (ESL) award and a computer-information systems achievement award. He was also nominated and accepted for the All-New Jersey Academic Team for Two-Year Colleges, comprised of the state’s best two-year-college students.
In 2002, Roa enrolled at NJIT. He excelled in the classroom as well in two internships, said Kimmelman. Roa did an internship at the Community Technical Assistance agency in Cedar Knolls, where he developed a complex website for the agency. He did his second internship for the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, where he worked on documentation and web design for both the NIH’s intranet and public website. In his senior project at NJIT, Roa researched the problems of accessibility of websites for the visually impaired. He made recommendations for how to make websites more user-friendly for the visually impaired as well as for those with other disabilities.
“George is a proven achiever,” Kimmelman said. “His academic heights have been achieved while holding down full-time employment. He is very modest yet his achievements are marvelous.”
Roa became an American citizen in 2004. His met his wife, Edra, an accountant, when the two were students together at Passaic County College. Her family is originally from Albania. The two live in an apartment in Paterson.
He is now interviewing for jobs and hopes to work for the Bloomberg Media, in New York, a provider of business and financial information. He also intends to pursue a master’s degree in business or technical communications.
“I do think America is still the land of opportunity,” said Roa. “The opportunities are here but you must open your imagination and look for them.”