I grew up in east Los Angeles during the 1940’s and 1950’s, which was a very exciting time. The older generation’s stories of the difficult times they had endured inspired us to hope for something better for our generation. Our family slowly worked its way out of poverty, and by the time I got to high school, our standard of living had improved quite a bit.
School was always relatively easy for me, with the exception of English, which I really didn’t master until college. Whenever I wanted to excel in any subject I could, but usually I was just an average student. My curiosity in the sciences began before high school. As a kid I enjoyed tearing things apart to figure out how they worked. My friends and I even dissected rats in our attempts to identify their physiology. My accidental placement in the college-bound track in high school furthered my interest in science. I actually found chemistry and physics fun!
My fascination with the sciences brought me to study physics at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as an undergraduate. However, my pursuit of a physics degree did not last long and shortly I switched to chemistry. My college experience made my life very different than the friends I had grown up with in East Los Angeles who were all Chicano and never had any college aspirations until they came back from the military service. In college, my friends were the Jewish and Asian students (mostly Japanese) who carpooled with me to UCLA. Growing up in Los Angeles with Chicano, African-American, American Indian, Asian, and poor white children from Oklahoma gave me a strong awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures and the common struggles that all people have growing up.
I was not a very motivated undergraduate student. I received mostly C grades. It was circumstance and luck that brought me to graduate school. During my undergraduate years there was a draft for military service and I knew that when I finished school I would have to go into the army.
I had never thought about graduate school before, but it sounded a lot better than going into the army. When University of California at Riverside (UCR) invited me to attend their graduate school, with tuition paid for, and a research job, I joyfully accepted. The only provision that the school mandated was that I receive B grades in my final semester at UCLA. For the first time in my life I had an academic goal. I worked hard and obtained A’s. The following semester I began UC Riverside graduate school. The experience of attending graduate school changed my whole world, I lived on campus, I did research, and earned a 4.00 grade point average. I loved graduate school.
My attendance at UCR enabled me the opportunity to be one of the few students in the United States working on an exciting new research project. Specifically, we experimented with organic materials that conduct electricity when you shine light on them. My research helped to create the understanding that the creation of charge carriers occurred very close to the surface of the material and that the oxygen in the air residing at the materials surface was acting like a solid state impurity and causing other complicated effects to occur. By having a very clean surface of an organic materials, such as you have in a high vacuum, the material behaved in a predictable manner. This was a big scientific discovery, at the time, which was 1965.
Due to the success of my research, IBM hired me after I finished some postdoctoral research. The first project I worked on for IBM was an organic photo (light) conductor, a polymer film, which is used by copying machines. Our invention allowed IBM to break into the market dominated by Xerox with a machine that provided consistent high quality copies.
After twenty-seven years in a fulfilling career with IBM, I became an Associate Dean for the College of Science at San Jose State University. I have been here a little over three years. I have a job that I helped to create and now I fund the position with government grants. I spend my days working with schools to help students take more math and science classes, and to be successful in these two disciplines. I help all kids, but in particular I focus on Latino, African-American, and Native American kids.
In my life, I definitely got a few lucky breaks, like attending UC Riverside; but, I now realize that determined students will make their own breaks. If you are motivated, and you really believe you can do something, just push at it. The breaks will come, and you will take advantage of them. The obstacles will come, and you will surmount them. You have to believe that you can succeed. You cannot let anyone else determine what you are capable of doing because nobody knows, and you will never know until you try.