San Jac Certified: computer engineering student likes innovation and helping others

11.07.2014 | By Rob Vanya

San Jacinto College student Joseph Barrera rapidly improved in math by taking advantage of the College's math tutoring lab. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.


Honors math student plans to transfer to pursue education


Joseph Barrera graduated from North Shore Senior High School in 2012. After earning an associate degree in mathematics at San Jacinto College, he plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, and a master’s in system engineering at either Texas A&M University or Texas Tech University. He is an Honors student, and is active in student organizations, serves as president of the math and engineering club, is a tutor for Upward Bound Math & Science, is a robotics club member, and is a Bridge to STEM Careers club member. He was an intern at NASA’s Texas Community College Aerospace scholar program.       

QUESTION: Why did you choose San Jacinto College?

JOSEPH BARRERA: It was not my first choice for college. Many of my high school friends attend San Jacinto College, and I figured if I also went that it would be sort of like a high school reunion, so I wanted to attend a university. I also had a preconceived idea that a university would provide a better education. My dad suggested that I give San Jacinto College a try and said I might be pleasantly surprised. He was right. I quickly found out my preconceived notion about San Jacinto College was wrong. The quality of education here is great. Choosing San Jac turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

Q: What led to your interest in math and engineering?

JB: It was not what I initially planned to pursue. When I started college, my interest was sports and my field of study was kinesiology. That changed in a math class when math professor Nate Wiggins asked students about career plans. Not many were pursuing engineering degrees. He said “I assume the rest of you are OK making about $35,000 a year?” That was a defining moment in my life, and after class professor Wiggins took time for a personal visit. When he learned I like innovation and I also like to help others, he suggested computer engineering as a career path. Realizing that technology is always evolving and there will always be a need for computers, I could see that computer engineering offers a lot of earning potential, as well as job security.

Q: But were you concerned about the math courses required for computer engineering?

JB: Yes, and I am not naturally very good at math. In fact, due to enrollment test results, I had to take developmental math classes when I first registered at San Jacinto College. Fortunately professor Wiggins, as well as math professor Ron Ollis, went the extra mile and personally encouraged me and motivated me. They recommended that I take advantage of the College’s math tutoring lab. I followed their advice, and spent a lot of time there. That made all the difference, and my math grades began to improve. Now, I am taking calculus 2, Honors engineering physics, and Honors linear algebra, and I am maintaining good overall grades in all three courses. In fact, I am now president of the College’s math and engineering club.

 Q: Can you share details of some of your innovative ideas?

JB: I can’t really go into much detail, but for example one product could help instructors be more effective with classroom lectures; another product could improve auto-driving safety. At San Jacinto College I am learning application skills, such as applying high level math concepts to real life scenarios. Once I transfer to a university engineering program, I will then learn to code, program, and create. After graduation I plan to begin the “developing stage” so I can transition my ideas from concept to reality. My ultimate goal as a computer engineer is to found a company that may someday perhaps be on par with innovative corporations like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung.

 Q: So, you might be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?

JB: I don’t think so. Like others, I admire Jobs and Gates because of their innovative and creative talents. But I really value education and plan to stick with it and finish college. I want to show the importance of completing college and how that is important for success. Jobs did not finish college. Gates attended Harvard, but never graduated. Both had great business success, but they are the exception rather than the rule. For the majority of people, I believe that completing college is the right path.

 Q: What advice would you give to a young person who seems to not value education and sees no need to attend college?

 JB: Think about your future and what sort of earning potential you will have if you never attend college. If you skip college, the odds are that you will be stuck in a dead-end job with not much opportunity for any kind of advancement. Buckle down now and focus on what really matters – education and a career with a future.

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.