Humans of Flagstaff: José Diaz Aquino

José Diaz Aquino is a program director in the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences and president of the Staff Advisory Council.  

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today. 

My favorite memories as a child usually revolve around playing sports and even more specifically basketball. When I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to play on a team representing Puerto Rico in an international tournament. It was my first time ever getting on a plane, and we travelled to New York City and played against teams from countries  around the world. I remember being so proud to represent my island and how proud my parents (and all the parents and players) were to have this opportunity. This was one highlight in a sports career that ended with playing basketball in college. 

What have you been most proud of this week? 

Every week I have the honor of meeting one-on-one with students and having career conversations. This week I am most proud of the fact that I received an email from two of the students that I have helped this year giving me an update on their career successes. One student was invited to an interview with their dream employer, W.L. Gore, and the other had been offered a full-time position and successfully negotiated their expected salary. These life-changing opportunities make me proud of the students I get to serve. 

What is your favorite way to spend a day off? 

We have a 2-year-old son, Andrés Sebastián, at home so a “day off” is spent with him learning new things. We love going to any park and being active outside climbing, running, playing with a variety of sports equipment (he seems to like basketball, but I am definitely biased). Seeing life through his eyes is amazing, and re-learning and teaching him things is my favorite part of any day. 

What are three things on your bucket list and why? 

Driving trip from Canada down to the southern tip of Argentina—when I was around 16, my family would receive copies of National Geographic on a mail subscription and there was an article about a reporter who did this trip all in public transportation. It immediately captured my attention. 

Live in a beachfront house somewhere (maybe Puerto Rico or Hawai’i)—Once an island boy, always an island boy. There is nothing like having the mountains, beach, and city all within a 20-minute drive. 

See the Pyramids of Giza in person—This is literally one of my childhood fascinations! 

What is your philosophy in life? 

Be open to learning new things and to meeting new people that are outside your immediate circle. I have learned that everyone has their own experiences that have shaped their life views and decisions. If I am not open to listening and hearing their point of view or understanding their experience, I will be missing some important context and amazing insights. 

If you could pick one piece of career or professional advice to give someone, what would it be? 

Do not close (or under appreciate) any doors that open up to you. Usually, the most growth happens when you are the most uncomfortable and having to learn new things. These opportunities may not be in your original “plan,” but you may end up loving the work you do. When becoming a food safety and sanitation expert while working at General Mills, I never thought it would take me to live and work in Mexico, Spain, France and Australia! 

NAU Communications