As a first-generation college student, Javier González-Rocha made sense of his own education through dialogue with peers and faculty.

“I have always been troubled by what I know I do not understand,” he said. “Therefore, when I come to understand — or at least begin to — I am eager to share it with someone else.”

González-Rocha is a second-year Ph.D. student in aerospace and ocean engineering in the College of Engineering. He came to Virginia Tech from California State University, Sacramento, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering. Before that, he lived in Michoacán, Mexico, and Watsonville, California. 

At Virginia Tech, he's maintained a rigorous course load and an active research agenda, served on the Beyond Boundaries global land-grant group, and been involved in campus activities that raise awareness about issues in higher education, human rights, and social justice.

González-Rocha can articulate the challenges that many minority groups struggle with. In doing so, he connects minority and majority groups throughout campus.

He led the effort to create the Graduate Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, an organization with a long history nationally but new to Virginia Tech. Through it, González-Rocha built a network of graduate-to-undergraduate engineering student mentoring, which instilled a new sense of pride among Latina and Latino engineering students at Virginia Tech.

Xavier Medina Vidal, assistant professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said, “Beyond being an outstanding, courageous leader, Javier cultivates potential leadership in others. This is perhaps his greatest talent. He has inspired so many undergraduate students through his model selflessness and willingness to reach out and start a conversation about just about anything. He has a special way of getting people ‘out of their own way’ to engage in community-building dialogue.”

González-Rocha is willing to challenge the status quo in the spirit of making his community a better place. Jack Lesko, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering, said, “In the College of Engineering, Javier has shed new insights into what many consider traditional measures of success in the field. Through his participation in the New Horizon Graduate Scholars program, Javier has challenged people to think about the contribution that diversity can bring to the research environment. He has shown that by engaging people with different backgrounds and experiences, new discoveries can take shape.”

González-Rocha said, “Only through a strong sense of community can we create an environment where we can dare to be vulnerable enough to discover ourselves and the world that we are part of. Failure is a fact of life, but failing forward is of significant importance.”

He said he is considering many career options, but knows he would like to work in an environment where he can continue to learn, teach, and advocate for the empowerment of underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. González-Rocha said, “I am passionate about the advancement of engineering and science as a means to meaningful societal change. It’s the framework through which I choose to have a purpose in the world.”

For his leadership in promoting understanding throughout disparate parts of the campus and for his ability to get students, faculty, and staff from all backgrounds to see common ground, González-Rocha was recently presented the Aspire! Award for Self-Understanding and Integrity.

Each year, the Division of Student Affairs recognizes 25 students who embody Virginia Tech’s Aspirations for Student Learning.

In October, November, February, March, and April, these exceptional students are honored with Aspire! Awards. Anyone can nominate a student for an Aspire! Award. Nomination information, along with Aspire! Award dates, can be found online.

Written by Sandy Broughton.

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