Do not stereotype Jony Valenzuela as a math nerd.

He does not have a pocket protector, but this GCC student can crunch some serious numbers.

Valenzuela has used math to overcome adversity and succeed in school.

Valenzuela grew up in an environment that did not help cultivate his thinking skills.

“Growing up in Van Nuys, you would see gang members like the Bloods around all the time. It was the social norm to be a gang member.”

Another example of his social setting having an effect on his education was when he was offered entry into the Gifted and Talented Education program in elementary school. He decided against it because at that time he would rather “be with the homies.”

Out of high school, he did not know what his plans were. “I’ve pretty much always liked math. I just liked the reasoning behind it,” Valenzuela said. “I started to study math on my own right after high school, and that’s when I decided that I should major in it.”

Valenzuela has always thought on a deep level, but did not have a subject to critically think about.

“The only thing that I feel that I couldn’t have done without college is study topology, and that’s because it might have not caught my attention and I wouldn’t have had Dr. (Thomas) Voden’s help.”

He likes the abstractness of topology. “You can’t really hold many of the ideas at a tangible level,” Valenzuela said.

Voden shed light on both the subject of topology and Valenzuela as a student: “Jony took an independent study course where we studied topology. This was upper division work…junior or senior level work for a math major.”

Voden described topology as “rubber space mathematics. That type of math attempts to show that two objects are the same if morphed. An example is that a square and sphere are the same. If you could push the ends of the square, it could become a sphere.”

Voden’s assessment of Valenzuela was glowing: “Jony is intensely curious about math. When he gives answers they are not the standard answers. They are indicative of a deeper level of thinking.”

Valenzuela says he plans to transfer to UC Santa Barbara or UC San Diego next semester.

Jony is a great success story. He shows that one can achieve success by focusing and putting significant effort into life. In Jony’s words: “Mine is a story of adversity, not genius.”