30 Under 30: John Giraldo
Fair Lawn, NJ
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A lot of things had to happen for mechanical engineer John Giraldo to be able to get to where he is today. Where he is, is Sandvik Coromant’s Aerospace Application Center, where he works as a CAM Programmer, and where “his contributions...have been astounding,” according to his manager Sean Holt.
How he got there is quite a story—in fact it’s a version of the USA’s oldest story: that of someone coming to its shores to create a better life.
It goes like this: John was four years old and fatherless when his mother made the hard choice to leave him and his little brother with grandparents while she left their home in Colombia to find work in the US. It wasn’t until six years later, when he was ten, that John and his brother were able to join her here.
John was expected to make the most of his school years, and remembers school as being difficult at first as he struggled to learn his subjects while concurrently learning to speak and write in English. In time he began to excel in mathematics and the sciences. College didn’t appear to be in the cards for John, however, given the family’s low income. Unwilling to give up hope, John attended college recruitment fairs anyway. During a college fair he met with representatives of the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Educational Opportunity Program, who saw his potential and recruited him.
Right after his high school graduation, John began a multi-week intensive summer academic enrichment program, courtesy of NJIT. It was “a boot camp” for college prep, as John remembers it: “We were up at dawn and in classrooms and labs all day. We weren’t allowed to use cell phones or to contact our families except at set times...we stayed in dorms and followed curfews. We lived and breathed academics.”
The discipline he learned that summer helped when he later had to balance a full course load at NJIT with two jobs—including an internship where he helped research process improvements for a local manufacturer. After four years he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering—the first member of his family to ever graduate college.
“The most memorable moment in my life,” John said, “was accepting my diploma and looking out to where I knew my family was sitting—and seeing the look on my mother’s face.”
Now, at the Aerospace Application Center, John helps customers optimize their processes for making aerospace parts. And during a statewide event dedicated to building student awareness of careers in manufacturing, John gave tours and demonstrations to hundreds of students.
“Showing them that manufacturing is so much more than just working with machines and getting your hands dirty—that was rewarding,” John remembers. He has already proven to be an inspiration to at least one student, notes Sean Holt: “John’s brother looks up to him as his role model.” That brother is now in his third year at NJIT, with a major in mechanical engineering—the next chapter in this old, new story. ME