By Sharon Pound
Carlos Gonzalez dreams of someday being a professor at a small college. Listening to the comments of the people he has worked with, it definitely sounds like he has all the right stuff.
Since beginning work on his doctorate in 2010, Gonzalez has mentored seven materials science and engineering undergraduate researchers on a variety of projects. They all agree his passion for the field is contagious.
“Carlos’s drive and joy for learning are inspirational,” says student Joe Ulrich. “He makes you want to love the work, and having someone like him to guide you is vital to enjoying an internship.”
Originally from Puerto Rico, Gonzalez worked as a components engineer for Hewlett-Packard and a process engineer for DuPont Electronic Materials before coming to UT. But what he enjoys the most is introducing students to the field of materials science.
“My goal is to try to shape students as role models and reward them for their knowledge and dedication,” Gonzalez explains. “Hopefully, they will copy good habits and discover a passion for materials science.”
Undergraduate research assistant Chase Joslin appreciated his mentor’s alacrity and accessibility. Joslin spent the summer of 2013 working with Gonzalez in an undergraduate research internship at UT’s Center for Materials Processing.
“He’s a great mentor because he’s not afraid to slow down and take time to explain things,” Joslin says. “He gives everyone the respect they deserve.”
Joslin added that Gonzalez taught him a great deal about materials concepts and processes over the summer. While Joslin didn’t focus on one single project, he took on a variety of tasks to support Gonzalez’s research on helium and neon ion beam effects in the molybdenum/silicon multilayer mirror for extreme ultraviolet applications.
In addition, Joslin engaged in outreach activities for precollege students. Working with Gonzalez, he developed experiments for UT’s High School Introduction to Engineering Systems (HITES) program and shared his newfound passion for research with high school students.
Faculty members are equally impressed with Gonzalez. Philip Rack, professor and Leonard G. Penland Chair of Materials Science and Engineering, says he finds it easy to depend on Gonzalez as a mentor for undergraduates because of his patience, unique skill set, and upbeat personality.
“Carlos provides a valuable service to students,” Rack says. “His mentorship allows them to learn by experience, to broaden their horizons, and to see real-world applications.”
Rack emphasizes that undergraduates need mentors like Gonzalez who are patient, motivated, and willing to explain the nuances of their specific discipline to students. “If students learn and turn on to engineering, then the undergraduate research experience is a success,” he says. “If mentored correctly, good students will contribute to the new knowledge generated.”
To make learning fun, Gonzalez has introduced interactive games to the classes he teaches, with variations on “Jeopardy” and “Are You Smarter than a Business Major?” This is one of the reasons why the Department of Materials Science and Engineering recognized him with its Outstanding Teacher Award and Outstanding Service Award in consecutive years.
When not teaching or conducting his own research, Gonzalez is active in UT’s Materials Research Society and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He also volunteers twice a week at the Knoxville Latino Center teaching math to GED students.
The ultimate goal for any great educator is to impart knowledge of the field, insights into the world of research, and enthusiasm for the work at hand. In that regard, Gonzalez is well on his way to making his dream a reality. Any institution of higher learning would be lucky to have him.