Enzo Paterno had 25 years of experience in industry when he changed careers to teach electrical and computer engineering at the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison.
Now, he is about to retire after more than 20 years of teaching some of the brightest high school students in New Jersey.
“I have a very good relationship with the students – they want to learn,” he said. “These kids are smart. They’re testing me all the time. They want to be fed my knowledge; I have to feed them.”
Paterno’s high school experience was very different from that of his students.
Although his parents were Sicilian, he lived in France for the first 15 years of his life, growing up speaking French and Spanish. He spoke no English when his parents brought him to Brooklyn, New York, as a teenager, learning Italian to get along in his neighborhood.
“My growing up in this community was very tough,” he said. “I lived in a very tough neighborhood.
“There was a riot almost every day in my high school. When I was in high school, I was not a very good student,” he said.
But a passion for math and science led him to DeVry University. Commuting daily from New York to Woodbridge, he earned an associate’s degree and was valedictorian of his class. Then was recruited to go to work for AT&T’s Bell Labs in Holmdel, again requiring a difficult commute.
He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees going to class at night while moving up the ladder at AT&T and later Lucent Technologies.
He began to teach in the evenings, first as a volunteer for a program in Harlem, New York, and later as an adjunct at colleges in New Jersey.
His engineering job had him working on cutting-edge telecommunications and computer projects, earning several patents. He was experienced in both hardware and software when he decided to go into teaching at the Edison academy.
“I did it all at AT&T,” he said. “When I designed the curriculum here, it was based on my extensive experience.”
Paterno arrived at the Edison academy a year after it was opened and has been a mainstay ever since.
“Mr. Paterno has been a pillar of the Edison Academy for many years,” Principal John Jeffries said. “His vibrant instruction, quick wit and extensive expertise will be greatly missed.”
“When I came here, I already had teaching experience,” Paterno said, recalling that he was offered the job the same day as his interview.
He said he has had to keep up with changes in technology – the passing years bringing such new subjects as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cyber security.
“I have such a passion for this stuff,” he said. “I still want to learn.”
In 2012, Paterno was honored by Princeton University as an exceptional secondary school teacher, receiving an award at commencement and sitting next to Aretha Franklin on the dais.
He and his students received a $10,000 MIT-Lemelson grant to develop a drone for agricultural use, which was granted a provisional patent, and he and several students also developed a device to help police prosecute driving offenses by calibrating videotape evidence.
His students have gone on some of the most elite colleges in the nation – and the world – including Princeton, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Oxford University.
After some time to relax, he plans to look into consulting and perhaps part-time teaching.
Paterno is married and has two grown sons and two grandsons.
“I’m going to miss my interactions with my students. I tell my students they are gold,” he said. “This has been the best part of my life. This is my candy shop.”
The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, has campuses in East Brunswick, Edison, Perth Amboy, Piscataway and Woodbridge, offering 36 career majors. More information is available at www.mcvts.net.
- This information was provided by The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District.