Viking Profile

Joel Gonzales-Santiago


Born in Puerto Rico, Joel grew up in Philadelphia and the Tidewater area of Virginia, with a father in the military and a mother in corporate human resources.  After spending the last part of his high school career at the Governor’s STEM Academy at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, a competitive, cooperative academy for promising high school students in STEM fields, Joel began to think more about his academic interests.

“When my high school was designated a Governor’s STEM Academy, I knew I just had to give it a shot. I had always imagined that I’d do something technical. When I was growing up, I was intrigued by figuring out how things work. In the beginning, I figured that should be about engineering. However, as I got into engineering coursework, I gradually figured out that I was interested more in the technical processes versus constructing things, so I developed a love of programming. Then, I came to see the opportunities in being able to integrate understanding technical processes into business, which I’m continuing here, at ECSU, double majoring in Business with a concentration in Management Information Systems and Computer Science with a concentration in Information Technology.”

As a result of his special high school training, Joel started his career at ECSU with a significant number of college credits, and next year, he’ll be a junior, not a sophomore. This helps him and his family because it means he’ll get his bachelor degree in fewer years, which equates to less overall cost. That’s important, but Joel thinks the most significant thing that has happened for him so far has more to do with what he’s learned outside the classroom as much as what he’s learned inside it . He gives much of the credit for that to his favorite professor, Dr. Lloyd Mitchell. Here’s how Joel describes that outside-the-classroom learning:

“I was so used to taking technical classes, and when you do lots of that, you get this feeling that there’s a specific, always-right answer to a question. And then I took a class with Dr. Mitchell, who taught in a way that was quite unfamiliar to me. He gave us an assignment, but when we asked how to do it, he simply smiled and said, in so many words, ‘You figure it out.’”

“We were all sort of confused by that, wondering why he wouldn’t help us. And then, over time, we did figure it out. Turns out we were able to solve the assignment together, better than apart, and without intentionally doing it, we created teams. And because we didn’t all have the same ideas or experiences, we had to develop ways to communicate and cooperate. All that together added up to an exercise in the things that matter ---- critical thinking, team building, communication and the skill of playing well together. And the genius of Dr. Mitchell was that he was smart enough to guide us to teach ourselves. And that, I’ve learned already, is what education is all about. I’m really glad I decided to enroll here at ECSU, because even before I got here, I’ve been dreaming about starting my own Android applications company. This place will help me get there faster.”

Favorite place on campus: R. L. Vaughan Center

Professor who has influenced you the most: Dr. Lloyd Mitchell

Advice for other students: Take measured chances. In my case, I attended the American Indian Science and Engineering Society conference held in Los Angeles, CA, a place completely new to me. Before we got there, we visited places from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. It was the first time I represented the university and the first time I competed in a poster research competition, as well. I worked with another student to complete a poster that explained our research: the transfer of Ebola through the air and on surfaces. When our turn came, we explained how Ebola is and is not transferred. In addition to meeting so many Native American people from all over the United States, all the brilliant minds gathered in one location really emphasized the value of continuing my studies even beyond just going to class every day.” “On the last day they announced the winners of the competition. I have never jumped out of my seat any faster than when I heard my name called.”