Queensborough Alumnus Receives PhD in Nanotechnology and Organic Chemistry
Dr. Junior Gonzales
The American Dream is alive and well for Queensborough alumnus Dr. Junior Gonzales who recently received his PhD Chemistry with a concentration in Nanotechnology and Organic Chemistry from the CUNY Graduate Center. Dr. Gonzales’ story not only proves that hard work and persistence pays off, but it also shines the spotlight on the critical role that community colleges play in providing access to education and upward mobility for talented people, who, otherwise, might not get those chances.
Dr. Gonzales, born in Peru, immigrated to the United States. “Overcoming financial and cultural difficulties did not stop my aspiration to go to college and to work. On the contrary, it gave me the fantastic boost I needed to become a great professional and to start believing I could become a more competent scientist,” Dr. Gonzales said.
“At first, the English language was a challenge for him,” Professor Paris Svoronos, Dr. Gonzales’ teacher and longtime mentor, said. “However, he had a good math background, and so he was enrolled in General Chemistry I.”
“I did not perform as well as I expected. Perhaps my bloom in chemistry was taking longer,” Dr. Gonzales said. With determination, Dr. Gonzales redoubled his efforts and successfully repeated the course. He then completed Honors General Chemistry II with Dr. Moni Chauhan. It was time to tackle Organic Chemistry I and II. Although Dr. Gonzales had an opportunity to enroll in another section, he wanted to work with Dr. Svoronos. “I was enamored with his strict disciplinarian (but encouraging) attitude and motivational coaching which was coupled with the lending of his ear to me when I needed it,” Dr. Gonzales said. “It was at that time that my English and self-confidence improved.”
“Organic chemistry is like a chess game. It requires critical thinking and creativity,” Dr. Svoronos said. “Junior Gonzales was tenacious and special. He created his own mechanisms and roadmaps to solve problems in class. He would come up to the blackboard and challenge me. It really got me to think. I was on the intellectual defensive. He has a great mind.”
In 2006, Dr. Gonzales was selected to participate in the Queensborough Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program. The program, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is designed to increase the number of underrepresented science students who transfer to a four-year baccalaureate-granting institution and pursue careers in science or biomedicine. Dr. Gonzales, who, at that time was interested in a career in pharmacy, worked with Dr. Joseph Bertorelli on a research project entitled “Pharmaceuticals, a Necessary Evil?”
During his time at Queensborough, Dr. Gonzales’ in-classroom experiences were enhanced by internships that introduced him to real-world challenges. At the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Dr. Gonzales analyzed water samples for toxic heavy metals and microorganisms allowing the DEP to gain insight into the origins of the pollutants. At the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he tested for the presence of pesticides in imported shrimp as a part of the FDA’s effort to safeguard the food supply.
After graduating from Queensborough in 2008, Dr. Gonzales went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at Hunter College where he received scholarships. He also had an internship at Columbia University and presented his research at various conferences. To cap his education, Dr. Gonzales enrolled at the CUNY Graduate Center where he received his PhD in Nanotechnology and Organic Chemistry in the spring of 2017. Dr. Gonzales also patented the molecules that he synthesized during his graduate training. In addition, he trained in clinical research at Weill Cornell Medical College through their Clinical and Transitional Science Center program.
Dr. Gonzales is now following in the footsteps of his mentor. “I have always been interested in sharing my knowledge with others the same way it was taught to me by others.” Dr. Gonzales said. “I had the chance to teach my first Organic Chemistry class at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and at Hunter College. I motivate and challenge my students in the same way that Dr. Svoronos first taught me at Queensborough.”
“What I admire most about Junior Gonzales is his loyalty,” Dr. Svoronos said. “He is fiercely loyal to the people he cares about. He has become a dedicated student and teacher.”
Fulfilling a longstanding wish, Dr. Gonzales now works as a research scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He contributes his knowledge and experience to study cancer and make a difference in the lives of so many who fight this disease.
Dr. Gonzales’ career goals include increasing his training to become a high-ranking innovator and scientist, a mentor, the head of a lab and to continue acquiring expertise to develop research on small molecules in disease therapy leading to the improvement of human health.