Joy Franco

Joy Franco

Dean’s Scholar

Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering


Why did you choose your major?

From my earliest days, I loved the feeling of creating beautiful things. It began with crayon drawings on walls and sheets, progressed through painting and pastel drawings, and resulted in me starting community college as a studio art major. When I took my very first physical science course, Introduction to Astronomy, it was the first time I learned of the four fundamental forces of nature. It occurred to me that if I studied physical sciences I could create things on an even greater scale. I learned about mechanical engineering from a friend and it was a natural choice. I love being able to build things that function reliably in real life. Mechanical engineering affords me that experience. Through my major I have learned computer programming, how to build electrical circuits, how to analyze the forces acting on a component, and how to create a theoretical model to predict movement. My major gives me hands on experience building projects with team members. Despite the myth, engineers do not work alone. There is a great deal of satisfaction in working with a team to achieve a goal, and successfully reaching that objective together.


What does receiving this particular award mean to you?

This award represents the recognition of my mechanical engineering professors who I greatly admire. Dr. Burford Furman, who nominated me for the award, is a tremendous role model and accomplished engineer, and it is a terrific honor for me to receive his acknowledgement. The award represents both a recognition but also a vote of confidence in my ability to represent engineering and SJSU. Thus, the award provides an additional impetus for me to continue working to the greatest of my ability and holding myself to the highest standard of excellence.


Who has been instrumental in your life and/or who has contributed to your academic success?

My father set the best example for me to be an honest person and to live by a moral code. He showed me how to confront the consequences of my actions, no matter how grave. I would not be here without the encouragement and support of my professors. So many of them saw a flicker of potential within me, and they selflessly fanned that wisp of smoke into a flame. Finally, my loving friends have been instrumental in my academic success. They were so excited for me when I reentered school, and they always believed in my ability to make the dream a reality. I am very lucky to have their support.


Did you overcome any hardships or adversities during your life, that has helped shape who you are today?  And if so, could you please briefly elaborate?

 Until the age of eleven, I lived in poverty with my mother and often her husband (my stepfather). He was a violent man and the voracious cycle of domestic violence swept through our family from husband to wife, mother to child, and sibling to sibling. Our family was torn apart by generations of abuse, crime, and poverty. At age eleven, I went to live with my father and began healing the wounds of my childhood, but those wounds got much worse before they truly healed. I struggled to find my identity between my mother’s Mexican-American heritage and my father’s European-American. I felt no familial or cultural allegiance. My mother’s family taunted me with words like “guera” (dysphemism for “white-girl”), but I carried my poor, Mexican-American upbringing in my heart and felt like an imposter around my father’s family. I belonged nowhere. I always felt like the smelly child with holes in her shoes, clothing from donation’s bags, and food from Second Harvest. On the outside, people judged me as a typical, middle class white girl. Inside, I could not shake the memories of homeless shelters, police responders to domestic violence calls, and the generically wrapped gifts from strangers at Christmas time.

 It took me a very long time to heal those wounds, and to reclaim my life. Regardless of the pain they brought me, those wounds shaped me into a strong, self-sufficient woman. Today, I appreciate every blessing in my life, no matter how small, because I remember the times when I had nothing. There were times when my soul was so broken and I felt so alone in this world that I felt like giving up on life. I was so tired from always having to fight, that I just wanted to lay down and rest. Whenever this happened, I searched for beauty in the world. I searched for a reason to keep living and I found it in the clouds, the ocean, a bumblebee, and in the stars. I thought about these things that continue existing no matter how adverse the environment. I refused to give up. I refused to continue being a victim of my upbringing. Life shaped me into a fighter—teaching me to never give, never give in, and to never surrender. As Mark Twain wrote, “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”


What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?

Attaining excellence in any endeavor in life is about motivation, determination, and believing in yourself. You have to connect with your own motivation for being in school, finding the answer to “why am I here?” That motivation must then grow into determination. You have to be determined to do the work, come hell or high water. Finally, you have to believe in yourself. You have to shut out the noise that says, “You can’t do it. You are too stupid. You are not smart enough. It does not really matter. What’s the point?” It does matter, and you can do it. Do not let the peanut gallery dictate your path in life.


Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?

I am applying to graduate schools this fall, and hope to finish my PhD in mechanical engineering within the next six years. This will allow me to become a professor, researcher at a university, and mentor to college students. My research interests are in characterizing the role of mechanical properties in neurological disease states. I hope to use this interest to contribute to the field of biorobotics, which gives mobility and autonomy back to physically disabled persons. Outside of my research and technical interests, community service is a part of my civic duty. I want to go back to my community and help those children find their way, and not fall victim to the same cycle that nearly destroyed my life. I would also like to make significant contributions towards increasing literacy and teaching practical math skills to women in developing nations.


A few words from her nominating professor:

“Joy Franco is a 'standout' among the Mechanical Engineers. She is PhD bound, very sharp, has overcome a challenging past, and is a leader in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) organization. I have had her in one of my classes and have worked with her on defining an ambitious directed study opportunity with a professor in the Biology department.”

- Professor Buff Furman