Goizueta Doctoral Candidate Jonathan Gomez Martinez
Doctoral Student Overcomes Odds; Explores the Social Cost of AI-based Automation

For someone who once thought college was out of reach, Jonathan Gomez Martinez 19C 24PhD knows how to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way.  

Years ago, his older brother was accepted to college and then couldn’t go due to financial constraints. So, Gomez Martinez spent his high school years building on his computer skills and focused on job readiness.

But several events would change the trajectory of his career. He scored well on standardized tests, benefitted from a persistent high school career counselor, and received help from two nonprofits.

Jonathan Gomez Martinez 19C 24PhD

This month, Gomez Martinez receives his second degree from Emory University. He graduates from Goizueta Business School with a PhD in Information Systems and Operations Management. This fall, he moves to the West Coast to begin teaching as an assistant professor of data sciences and operations at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

The irony of his position is not lost on him.

“Despite the fact I thought I wouldn’t go to school, I ended up getting my choice of schools for undergraduate then decided to pursue a PhD. Now, I will be teaching at a school,” he muses.

Early Passion for Computers Sparks Academic Journey

The road to Emory, much less obtaining a doctorate degree, was far from a straight line Gomez Martinez. His interest in computers, however, began early.  

For his eighth birthday, he surprised his parents by asking for a computer. His fascination for making the computer “do stuff,” led him to dive into Excel. It resulted in a side hustle by the time he reached his late middle school and high school years. For a fee, he would perform statistical analysis for clients, selling his services on Craigslist.

“Customers didn’t know how old I was, and there was no Zoom,” he says.

His computer prowess grew in high school. There, he learned programming and SAS, statistical software, which combines programming with data. He and a classmate even presented a poster at the SAS Global Forum, a major conference in the industry.

“Most people were just interested in our age, not the project,” he says of the experience. “In hindsight, it makes sense. Nobody is going to believe our stats.”

Chasing a Dream

Even with his academic success, the goal remained to graduate and get a job. Born in Mexico, Gomez Martinez came to the United States with his mother and siblings in 2000, joining his father. Their move fulfilled one of his father’s dreams. He had become enamored with the American education system, and had been working in the United States already—saving to create a home for the family in North Carolina. While Gomez Martinez’s parents stressed the importance of education, financing college was out of reach.

His high school counselor would guide Gomez Martinez to resources that would open doors for him. These included Golden Door Scholars, which is an organization for undocumented students, and QuestBridge, a nonprofit that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities.

“Between the two organizations, I could apply to schools for free,” he says. “So, I just applied to both programs, and to eight partner schools for each of them. If I got matched with either organization and a partner school, I would get a full ride. At the end of the day, I ended up with my choice of full rides.”

Ultimately, he chose Emory for its innovation and research. A visit to campus during Essence of Emory helped seal the deal. The invitation-only program is for admitted students from underrepresented backgrounds with high academic achievement, just like Gomez Martinez.

Finding His Own Path on the Academic Journey

The transition to college wasn’t easy, especially since his high school focused on work readiness, not college preparedness. But some soul-searching and extra-curricular events would help in his adjustment. Gomez Martinez began to make friends and took on leadership roles in Emory’s Jiu-Jitsu club. He also began dating a girlfriend who supported his study habits, and he immersed himself in a new quantitative theory program.

Originally, Gomez Martinez wanted to focus on computer science. However, the theoretical classes and math weren’t his favorite. Enter Cliff Carrubba, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and department chair for Quantitative Theory and Methods—or QTM. Carrubba pitched there was going to be a big market for data scientists. He said the new QTM program would equip undergraduate students for jobs that used to require a higher degree.

“I was still thinking workforce preparedness. So, if I could get a master’s degree job after four years, that seemed like a good deal,” he adds.

The program offered Gomez Martinez the perfect balance. It involved a variety of coursework, including bioinformatics, calculus, regression analysis, data structure, and algorithms, along with artificial intelligence, with room to “churn through computer science courses.”  

A Mentor Lights the Way

The search for an internship would introduce him to Goizueta Business School.

My friends in consulting told me I needed to get an internship after my junior year because that opens up the door for full-time jobs.

Jonathan Gomez Martinez

The problem was he didn’t know how to approach the search. Specifically, his computer science colleagues all wanted to work for Google. However, Gomez Martinez had other plans in mind.

With nothing to lose, he turned to the business school and “threw a hail Mary.” He sent a cold email for help to Ramnath Chellappa, professor of information systems and operations management and associate dean and academic director, MS in Business Analytics.

The two would hit it off, and Gomez Martinez would become Chellappa’s teaching assistant for the business analytics program and, later, his research assistant.

At this point, [Professor Chellappa] was already talking to me about getting a PhD, but in my mind, the goal was to get a job.

Jonathan Gomez Martinez

Plus, Gomez Martinez had landed an internship with Equifax, the global data, analytics, and technology company, which had an interesting problem for him to solve. Still, Chellappa advised him to keep an open mind and to take the GRE.

Changing Course

The internship would provide another course correction. Gomez Martinez was tasked to help ensure the company didn’t suffer another security breach.  

“The Equifax internship was really cool for about a month,” Gomez Martinez says.

That’s when I finished the project, and they didn’t have another project. I think they expected it to take me a lot longer.

Jonathan Gomez Martinez

Indeed, a year before, a team of students had attempted to solve the problem but didn’t get far. With nothing more pressing to do than run reports, Gomez Martinez spent the down time studying for the GRE.

When he returned to campus from summer break, Gomez Martinez shared the experience with his mentor. “So, are we doing this?” Chellappa asked.

At that point, I said, ‘If y’all will pay me to stay at school for a while. Sure, why not?’

Jonathan Gomez Martinez

Decision made, he set off for the latest path in his journey.

Notes Gomez Martinez: “When I started the program, I took a research seminar where we would discuss papers with the dean of the program, which at that time was Kathryn Kadous, Schaefer Chaired Professor of Accounting. After submitting our first paper for the semester, her answer was something along the lines of ‘Jonathan, this is a lovely essay, but this is not what research is about.’ I always remember that. It was such a small thing, but she was there to redirect me at just the right time.”

Pursuing Impactful Work

Over the years, several faculty members at Goizuteta helped him refine his research and hone in on an area of focus. In addition to Chellappa, Gomez Martinez lists Anand Swaminathan, Roberto C. Goizueta Chair of Organization & Management as instrumental in this process. “I feel the two of them have co-parented me into learning what research is,” he adds.

Currently, he is working with Emma Zhang, associate professor of information systems and operations management, “who is helping me with statistical methods for modeling how users interact online across multiple social media platforms,” he says.

Gomez Martinez wants his work to have impact. His research examines the unintended consequences of digital platform strategy. In addition, he is exploring the social cost of AI-based automation, Microsoft’s release strategy, Apple’s privacy policy, and the efficacy of content moderation.

Examples of his work include a paper with Chellappa entitled “Content Moderation and AI: Impact on Minority Communities,” which explores the use of AI in social media. Specifically, the research examines how X (formerly Twitter), could disadvantage LGBTQ+ users, or other groups, by automatically censoring certain words or phrases that are deemed bias, but may, in fact, be ways in which a particular group interacts with each other. A possible result, Gomez Martinez shared in an Emory Business article, is that some voices might not be truly heard or “…You start reinforcing biases because you are using a time-saving technology that is not equipped yet to understand the complexity and nuance of human interaction.”

In addition, his research project with Chellappa entitled “Platform Policy Changes: Impact of Auto Moderation on Minority Community Rights,” has received two awards. The work received first place in the 2023 INFORMS DEI Best Student Paper Award competition and runner-up for the Workshop on Information Systems and Economics (WISE) 2023 Best Student Paper Award.

Ultimately, Gomez Martinez notes, “I would like to either start working directly with platforms to see how their methods, in particular, can be readjusted or work with government entities in order to determine what a path forward should look like in determining legal liability and [other issues surrounding] platforms and AI.”

For now, he plans to spend the months between graduation and starting his new role at USC pursuing his research.

“I look forward to continuing to enjoy the remainder of my doctoral program and pushing out ongoing research in preparation for my new role in Los Angeles.”

The future of business education is here, and it’s bold. Goizueta has transformed the traditional classroom into a dynamic digital ecosystem with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and holographic capabilities. Learn more about innovation at Goizueta here.

Interested in pursuing a business degree? Learn more about the unique programs Goizueta has to offer.