The Lightbulb Moments
For Fabiola Gonzalez ’19 M’21, a life of breakthroughs
By Will Rothschild
Talk to just about any Furman graduate and they can share their personal testimony of how the school changed the course of their life. Most of the time, that story is squarely centered on their time as an undergraduate student – a professor who inspired them, a class that unexpectedly lit a spark, a group of friends or a club or other campus community where they found themselves.
But sometimes, the story of how Furman changed their life starts well before then before they had even filled out an application to attend. Fabiola Gonzalez ’19 M’21 holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in chemistry from Furman and started a five-year Ph.D. program at Florida State University in Fall 2021. She spends most of her time in a lab where she is trying to build a better lightbulb.
“Specifically, my focus is materials chemistry,” says Gonzalez, who works with electronic and energy devices focused primarily on LEDs. “The materials used in these devices generally work well, but they are not the best they can be. We are trying to increase the performance of nano-scale materials in these devices.”
Got all that?
Just know that what Gonzalez is working on could one day result in a breakthrough that will improve a technology we all depend on – and make the world just a little bit better. But this story isn’t about LEDs and lightbulbs. It’s about Gonzalez’s own breakthrough.
Before her first class and long before she ever started working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Mary Elizabeth Anderson on her master’s degree, Gonzalez knew the Furman campus well.
As a high school student in Greenville County, she entered Furman’s Bridges to a Brighter Future, a program whose mission is to “transform the lives of students, whose potential outdistances their circumstances, by providing educational access and opportunity through a comprehensive program that builds self-confidence, resiliency and leadership in order to break the cycle of poverty through post-secondary education.”
Every summer, Gonzalez spent a month on campus with other Bridges students attending classes, college planning sessions, college visits and mentoring activities. The Bridges summer program fed her early interest in science, and that interest blossomed into a passion as an undergraduate when she eventually applied to Furman.
Women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM fields, according to the American Association of University Women.
“When you’re growing up, you look around, and you’re looking for figures, and you don’t always get that,” Gonzalez says. “But at Furman, having those mentors and seeing women in these positions was very impactful.”
And now she’s doing the same for students at FSU. While much of her time is spent in the lab, she also has teaching responsibilities as part of her yearly stipend.
She is surprised by how much she enjoys teaching.
“Being able to connect with them one-on-one has been important to me,” says Gonzalez. “Because my professors at Furman connecting with me on an individual level, not just an academic level, made a huge impact.”