ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. — A family computer plagued by a virus is what Alan Romano of Elmwood Park says determined his decision to pursue a college degree.
His parents, who moved their family to New Jersey from Mexico, had just purchased a computer that became infected and costly to fix.
Romano taught himself how to remove the virus and in the process found his passion.
“I really liked working with the computer," he said. "It was just realizing how complex the machine was, and then as a child your imagination kind of gets crazy and you just think of all the possibilities that it could do.”
Romano is among the 33% of first generation students at NJIT. He is in his third year as a computer science major.
As a boy, Romano spent many afternoons helping his dad strip copper wiring to sell as scrap metal, instead of playing with friends.
“If my dad had a demolition job, he’d bring home the metal scraps. He taught us how to peel copper just to show us the value of hard work and money, so we wouldn’t take things for granted,” Romano said.
“Whenever I would explain it to the other kids, they never understood it. But I think it bonded me with my dad.”
His curiosity was fueled further as a middle schooler after he won Raytheon’s MathMovesU scholarship competition, for which he wrote about the ties between computers and mathematics.
Then he took online coding classes during high school and also participated in NJIT’s on-campus Science and Technology Enrichment Program (STEP), which emphasizes rigorous but fun hands-on STEM skills and intellectual inquiry.
STEP convinced Romano to pursue a CS degree at NJIT, where he is minoring in applied mathematics and participating in the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program.
As a McNair scholar, Romano has been working under Michael Bieber, professor and associate chair of the Department of Information Systems at YWCC, to build a website for a participatory learning education system. This approach to teaching uses digital resources to promote a more collaborative, hands-on learning experience for students and their instructors, Romano explains.
The McNair program has “definitely been helpful to me,” said Romano, who plans to pursue a graduate degree. “It’s really influenced me toward having a research kind of career.
“I’m hopefully going to be the first one in my family to get a degree. My parents didn’t really understand why I would want to continue in higher education.
"Now they know that my chosen career is very in demand right now, so they’re happy about that. And they also know that I really like the field, so they’re also happy for me."