Engineering his future: Jose Morales will be first from family to graduate college
Jose Morales is looking to build a professional life around unconventional energy — a fitting pursuit as the 22-year-old Colorado Mesa University senior has already built his life around defying convention. To say nothing of the odds.
Morales, who arrived in Grand Junction at age 15 from Mexico seven years ago, is poised to become the first member of his family to graduate from college.
In a letter to an anonymous donor who provided scholarship money for Morales, who is majoring in mechanical-engineering technology, Morales wrote that he was working to “bring my GPA up to finish school strong with at least a 3.0. Even though I’m happy to graduate I will miss CMU but I can’t complain. The MET program has prepared me to take on any task, professors are very helpful all the time, and I enjoyed going through all the pain of those very difficult but interesting classes and I believe I’m smart and motivated enough to do whatever I want.”
That, said Cheyanne Gentry, who taught Morales at Grand Junction High School, is just the beginning.
“I saw a very articulate, popular, funny, young man,” when she arrived to teach English as a Second Language at Grand Junction High School, Gentry said.
Gentry took over the class under trying circumstances, she said, and some of the students wanted to take out their frustrations by forcing her to leave.
“He’s one of the kids who stood up to them,” Gentry said. “Jose was one of those kids with two other boys and three girls who got them to settle down and give me a chance.”
It was clear to Gentry early on that Morales had an aptitude for math, enough so that she leaned on him for help when the sciences or math came up.
If a science question arose Morales would sidle up and tell her, “I got that,” Gentry said. “Go help somebody with social sciences or reading.”
And if it was math?
“Don’t even try to help them with math,” he would joke with her, Gentry said, “You’re just going to embarrass the both of us.”
Morales parlayed his affinity for the numerical and mechanical into an internship at Atlasta Solar Center, 111 S. Seventh St., where he worked on a project that combines natural gas and solar energy to make the most economical use of both to heat and light buildings.
As many as a dozen people applied for the internship, but Lou Villaire, a co-owner at Atlasta, settled on Morales even though Morales had no direct background in solar energy.
“He’s very bright and versatile,” Villaire said. “He’s always willing to give it a shot that’s a little better than the ‘old college try.’”
Morales juggles more than an internship, college classes and part-time work.
To help his sister, he also watches his nephews and nieces, driving them to and from school, helping with their care and their homework.
“He’s a ‘giver’ and takes family responsibilities very seriously,” said Mary Gonzales, who works with Morales at the Riverside Educational Center, where she is co-executive director.
For her, Gonzales said, Morales is a role model on many levels.
“He’s just such a good man with old-school morals and values,” Gonzales said. “He’s very respectful to himself and to the people around him.”
For Morales, deferred action for young people brought to the United States came just in time, as did legislation allowing him to pay in-state tuition, Gonzales said.
Now he has a Social Security number and a Colorado driver’s license, just in time for him to seek a job after graduation.
Though Morales hopes to someday return to Mexico and put his hard-earned skills to work, his immediate goals are pretty much those of every soon-to-be graduate.
“I would like to get some experience first,” he said. “Maybe later I’ll go back.”
That fits with the Jose Morales who walked into Gentry’s English as a Second Language class not even a decade ago.
Morales is likely to rise by cutting against the grain of convention, Gentry said, noting that Morales is one of the rare ones.
“I think some kids have an intrinsic thirst for knowledge,” Gentry said. “They just know there is something out there.”