Humans of Fung: Hector Gomez, MEng ’21 (ME)
On his determination and resilience as a first-generation student, DACA recipient, and student parent
Hector Gomez is a recent Berkeley MEng graduate who studied Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Controls of Robotic and Autonomous Systems. For his undergraduate degree, he studied Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University. Here, he shares what inspired him to pursue a Master of Engineering degree as a first-generation student, DACA recipient, and student parent.
What prompted you to pursue a Master of Engineering in mechanical engineering?
My curiosity for controls and robotics led me to have a huge interest in learning more about that area of mechanical engineering. Because of this, it seemed natural for me to pursue a Master of Engineering degree to learn and familiarize myself in this specific concentration. Since all technology is becoming more electrical and autonomous, I want to expand my knowledge in that area for future potential careers.
How did you make the decision to pursue graduate school?
Initially, I was undecided because I had a baby on the way and I would have to commute from San Jose. However, I was motivated to apply to graduate school right after completing my undergraduate degree because I wanted to keep the momentum going. UC Berkeley was my dream school so I challenged myself to apply. The day that I got accepted into the Berkeley MEng program was the day that my baby was due so I took that as a positive sign. At the end of the day, I chose the Berkeley MEng program for the reputation it has and because it offered a concentration in robotics and controls.
You identify as a DREAMer. What message do you have to other DACA recipients who are interested in pursuing higher education?
I was brought to the US from Mexico when I was seven years old. Today, I am the first in my family to achieve a bachelor and master’s degree. The journey has been difficult. The financial aspect of a graduate degree was a concern at first, which is why I ultimately decided to work full-time during the grad program. When DREAMers are given an opportunity to do better and improve ourselves — like pursuing higher education — nothing can stop us! Since we have come such a long way, cost should not hold us back. Pursuing a higher education gives us more knowledge, freedom, and power to accomplish more things in life that our parents hoped as we continue to strive in this country, Si Se Pudo!
At the beginning of my grad program, I felt like an outlier because I hadn’t met others like me. Eventually, I learned to embrace it because I know I am representing my people. I also felt inspired by seeing more Mexican-born students in higher education and Latinxs in engineering.
What was your experience as a student parent?
Overall, my experience as a student parent in the MEng program was an unforgettable learning experience. It taught me how to effectively manage my time regarding my coursework and other life responsibilities. Not only was I learning numerous topics of controls, but also how to be a parent to my newborn. It was challenging at first since I was also working full-time as an application engineer, being a full-time graduate student, and still having all the responsibilities of being a parent. My son motivated me to try my hardest and not give up since this degree was no longer for me, but for him. With understanding teammates and advisors, I was able to find a balance of being a parent, keeping up with my coursework, and maintaining my job and social life. For self-care and stress relief, I attempted to dedicate one day to myself every couple of months to hang out with my friends.
On top of being a student parent, you also worked full-time. How did you manage that?
To be honest, I didn’t sleep much. My son’s mother — my biggest support system — helped me and understood that this graduate school experience was only one year long. She supported me in every aspect that I needed and believed that I could get through this whole program. Creating a schedule was the key in my success for this academic year. The coursework and technical material was the most challenging aspect of the degree. This challenged me to find a balance between my personal responsibilities and the requirements of the degree. I created a timeline: go to work, spend time with my son, coursework, then capstone project work. Because of COVID-19, I was able to access my course recordings on demand and this gave me flexibility in my demanding schedule. In addition, my work was pretty understanding about my circumstances. When COVID-19 restrictions lift, I look forward to visiting the UC Berkeley campus, including the libraries and other landmarks with my son.
What initiative or project are you most proud of as an MEng student and why?
I am very proud of the outcome my team and I were able to accomplish in our capstone project: Whole Body Impulse Control and Model Predictive Control Based Control Architecture for a Highly Dynamic Bipedal Robot. We managed to make a bi-pedal robot jump in a simulation environment using an advance control technique. Achieving our goal was such a rewarding and satisfying feeling for me since this project was my first take on a research-based project for a real-life robot. It was an intriguing and exciting experience getting familiar with all the dynamics and fundamentals of robotics to creating controllers to control a bi-pedal robot. Furthermore, this project has enhanced my technical skills in the robotics domain.
What did you take away from earning your MEng degree during a pandemic and what’s next for you?
I may have not been able to grasp the typical graduate experience and enjoy the amazing campus UC Berkeley has to offer due to this pandemic. However, I was still able to walk away with all the knowledge and insight from what I learned in all my technical electives and leadership classes.
The Berkeley MEng degree taught me how to actively work with others in a team-based setting, especially in communications and under remote conditions. Through my capstone project and boot camp classes, I learned how to communicate effectively in a remote landscape. My takeaways were to be flexible, understanding, and actively listen to others. The degree also helped me deepen my technical skillset with controls fundamentals. Overall, I was able to gain the skillsets and guidance of what it takes to be leader in today’s tech world. Ultimately, I have become a more oriented and profound mechanical engineer with a robust background in controls.
I’m currently working full-time as an applications engineer at Solarius. In the future, my goal is to acquire a senior level role in controls or robotics and put to use all the skills I learned in the MEng program.
Edited by Ashley Villanueva