Jose Comi isn’t just a graduate student; he’s also a high school teacher. He’s not just an inventor; he’s also an aspiring surgeon.
The 24-year-old is pursuing a graduate degree in mechanical engineering while teaching chemistry full time at Garey High in Pomona. And he has his sights set on medical school, which he hopes to attend after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona.
Comi has been pushing himself like this since he moved to this country from Guadalajara, Mexico, as a high schooler knowing no one and speaking no English.
“It was a difficult move because I left my friends behind,” he says. “But I broke out of my comfort zone. I didn’t hang out with any Hispanic students because I would’ve clutched on to them because I could’ve spoken Spanish any time I liked. That way, it pressured me to get it together.”
After high school, Comi attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he earned a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and was part of a team of students that developed a contact lens that can deliver medication to the eyes of people with conditions like glaucoma. He and his teammates received a patent for their design.
Comi quickly found employment with an engineering firm after graduation, but he also had his eye on being an educator. He had earned a teaching credential during his time at Cal Poly SLO, and he felt he had a duty to pay forward the educational opportunities he had received.
“By the time I had graduated, I had been awarded many scholarships. I always carry that in my heart, all the trust people have put into me. I want to give that back,” he says.
On his second day at the engineering firm, he got a call from the Pomona Unified School District offering him a position teaching high school chemistry. He accepted it and quit his engineering job that very day.
“I saw this opportunity to give back to my community and I took it. It isn’t about chemistry, really. It’s about positively impacting the lives of these kids every day,” he says. “I can relate to them because I was in their shoes a few years ago.”
Now relocated to Pomona, Comi enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona in fall 2016 to earn a master’s in mechanical engineering, which he says will help him when he achieves his dream of being a cosmetic surgeon. He would be the third-generation doctor in his family.
“These doctors have a very interesting philosophy of trying to make people’s exterior match their interior,” he says. “I think that’s how engineers approach things. They see something that can be improved and they go in there and fix it.”
Despite his drive, Comi says that teaching full time while getting a master’s degree has been difficult.
“I have to do lesson plans, stay after school to tutor. I hope to gain my right footing because I don’t want to do things sloppy,” he says.
Comi has also learned to squeeze the most out of every bit of free time he’s got.
“I keep a very tight schedule. That means I have to eat and walk. I cram-study often. Any time I have an hour to spare, I study ahead and look at my notes,” he says. “Once you feel the pressure you realize you have a lot of spare time you waste on things like Facebook.”