"One of our Own"

IDSA Mourns Loss of ID Student Nohemi Gonzalez in Terrorist Attacks

Jan 11 2018 - 11:16am

The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) Student Chapter faculty advisor at California State University-Long Beach (CSULB), and industrial design assistant professor—David Teubner, IDSA—tells Voice of America the 23-year-old ID student, Nohemi Gonzalez, who was one of the 129 people killed Nov. 13, 2015 in the terrorist attack in Paris, was a hard working person who also mentored other students. “Energetic, bubbly, warm, wonderful and crazy…. She sent me an email last week telling me how much she was enjoying it over there; how much she was learning.”

Teubner adds, "Nohemi was very involved with her classmates, program and student chapter. She attended the WDDC (IDSA’s West District Design Conference) in San Jose last spring (in April 2015) and I remember how excited she was when she returned and how much the conference inspired her."

“This is a tragedy brought even closer to home with the horrific loss of one of our own,” says Chair John Barratt, IDSA Board of Directors, from the West Coast headquarters of TEAGUE where he serves as president and CEO. “Nohemi Gonzalez represented the hope of the next generation of industrial designers, trying to make a difference in the world through the power of industrial design. By all accounts, she had already impacted many."

"It turns out I had met her," says Jason Belaire, IDSA Board of Directors' Western District VP who chaired the 2015 WDDC,  "As a design student, she took the time to attend and connect with other students and professionals. She could have easily spent her time, energy and money on other things. She, in many ways, exemplified what is so important to mankind—connectivity." (See more in Belaire's comments posted below this article.)

At a campus candlelight vigil attended by hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni on Nov. 15, CSULB College of the Arts Department of Design Chair, Professor Martin Herman, remembers Gonzalez as “a beautiful soul who was absolutely passionate about design” and “possessed a character that was truly rare.”

She "practiced goodness and compassion in her friendships and relationships with others,” Herman adds. “She exuded such energy and enthusiasm and infused the entire department with these same qualities by virtue of her presence…. It’s just unimaginable that she won’t be there. It’s a terrible void.”

Gonzalez was one of about 20 industrial design students set to graduate from CSULB in spring of 2016. She was a teaching assistant in a basic design class. Herman says Gonzalez touched practically all the design students’ lives. “She viewed the world with trust, openness, imagination and playfulness,” he recalls.

Herman says Gonzalez focused on making things that would help people, which is what led her into industrial design. Herman tells Southern California Public Radio, Gonzalez wanted to be a designer from the moment she started school, and that kind of drive led her and her team to a prize in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Polli Snak was a 100 percent biodegradable pack of nuts, dried fruits and dehydrated expandable soil and seeds to cultivate a plant. 

Gonzalez took a furniture design course with CSULB instructor Joe Ricchio. "She wasn't afraid to say what she thought about her work and her classmates' work, which is how you learn. What's nice about her is she participated consistently.... She liked to share with everyone."

Design Professor Michael LaForte calls Gonzalez “a shining star and she brought joy, happiness, laughter to everybody she worked with and her students, her classmates.”

“She was a great person,” classmate Alex Schumacher says. “She was always the last one to leave the shop. She would yell at you if you didn’t clean up your area. She’d always be the first person to help you as well. She was one of the hardest workers in our group.”

Another classmate, Deborah Green, calls Nohemi “a spirited little firecracker—just such a little spark plug—really terrific—great little designer…. An amazing, amazing woman. She was going to set the world on fire.”

Gonzalez left home Sept. 1 to attend the Strate School of Design in Paris for a semester. She reportedly was eating at an outdoor café Le Petit Cambodge when she was killed in a spray of gunfire. Gonzalez was one of a group of four CSULB students scheduled to return in December to the United States. The university says the others are deciding whether to leave sooner.

Strate held a vigil for Gonzalez on Nov. 16. "I had hoped with all my heart that nobody from our community had been affected by this barbaric violence afflicted upon Paris Friday evening. Unfortunately, my worst fears came true. Strate lost a young, promising, talented student on exchange from the United States. Her name was Nohemi Gonzalez,” the school posts on its Facebook page.

Also on Facebook, a post from a photography student who had very briefly met Gonzalez by chance over the summer. “We come into contact with thousands and thousands of people as we go about our lives. We remember very few of them. The rest either dissolve into a blur or rise to the front of our consciousness. But I remember Nohemi. She made an impression on me…. While I have difficulty seeing the positive in a grave situation like this, may this be a reminder to us that life is unpredictable, fleeting, and sacred. May we act accordingly. May we live in a world with compassion and understanding, even in the face of violence.”

Classmates set up a fund in memory of Gonzalez to help her family pay expenses. The Department of Design hosted a reception in honor of Gonazalez on Sunday, Dec. 13, in the Anderson Design Gallery "to celebrate a life full of creativity, friendship and joy."

In December 2017, a plaque in her memory was unveiled in design building. It was created and fabricated based on a design Gonzalez herself conceived while studying near Paris. It reads, “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.”


The days were cold and overcast. But the inside was warm and tranquil. France is always beautiful, even with a heavy heart. My blood originates from there.

Sept. 11, 2001, I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina when the attacks on the United States occurred. The feeling of helplessness, fear, uncertainty hit all at the same time, yet my responsibility was to keep the children in the school where I was teaching, calm and peaceful. I think that in some ways, being so far away was an advantage. I wasn’t directly affected as a result. Perhaps I left the processing of this event alone? At least until this last Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.

My wife and I were in France during the shootings last week. We were safe, as we were visiting dear friends in Southern France in the country’s third largest city, Toulouse. It was hard to see all this while physically being in France. Not just because of the gravity of the event, but because of its proximity. This wasn’t like 911. I was in the country of the event for the first time. It affects you differently.

We actually only knew about the attacks as we were watching the Germany vs. France match live on television. and it all started to unfold during the match. The pure enjoyment of watching France dominate the game with Germany was impressionable. But during the first half, an announcement came over that there was bomb that went off near the stadium. Despite this news, the success of the French national team overrode the importance of the bombing. Or at least it seemed that way. The game ended and the special reporting began to infest all the channels and other forms of media. I started getting pings from my BBC app. I was watching video clips of people running out of a concert in downtown Paris, while others were being dragged to safety. Some people were hanging out of windows. Screaming, lots of screaming. I went numb. That night was extra long.

The next morning, CNN started to report on the terrorist attack and mentioned that there was an American girl who was a design student from Long Beach, CA studying abroad. There was no specific information on her beyond that though. However, my initial state of numbness rapidly changed when more information added to my fears, obviously with the realization that she was a US citizen and a design student. My mind made a mental note about this… but then the numbness quickly came back.

As my jet legged body and mind was struggling to make sense of what happened once I returned home, I found myself listening to a song by a band called Great Lake Swimmers.

“Now they sing in a symphony of keepers
And they hail in the harmony of saviors
You've got to live, live, live and love, love, love
Whether you like it or not, I will love you”
Lyrics by Great Lake Swimmers, River’s Edge

The song helped connect me to my feelings of what was happening. I instantly felt compelled to write down the swirling mass of confusion in my head to help bring some clarity to the situation. I really only made the connection that the American killed during this horrible and tragic event was Nohemi Gonzalez, an industrial design student from California State University-Long Beach. The news in France and others media sources said she was a design student... but NO mention of industrial design. Things continued to became clearer the more I dug into her story. As a Board Member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)—the Western District VP—Nohemi’s school falls into my jurisdiction. Meaning that from my home state of Colorado to the West Coast, I am connected to the world of design via companies, professionals and very importantly, design schools that teach industrial design.

It turns out I had met her. Nohemi attended the IDSA Western District Design Conference I put on this last April in San Jose, CA. As a design student, she took the time to connect with other students and professionals. She could have easily spent her time, energy and money on other things. She in many ways exemplified what is so important to mankind—CONNECTIVITY. But how many of us really invest in others and also in bettering ourselves?

She was one of the first to respond to our RSVP request for a very special event we put on the first night of the conference this past April called “Design Swarm.” This is an event where we take a very important social impact topic of humanitarian relief structures and divide it into three different scenarios. Each participant leaves ego at the door and through rapid immersion, understands a topic of which they had no previous knowledge, creates solutions and a prototype—all within a few hours. This was a VERY successful event for all who attended and seemed to leave a favorable impression on Nohemi.

I have a history of overthinking things. Of perhaps even complicating simple issues. But this story is hitting my core. It’s revealing things that I need to take stock of and rationalize. The question of “Why?”. To try to look at the bigger picture. Why was I in France during this event? Why was the ONLY American killed—Nohemi? Why did we meet this last April?

This is a conversation that I’m starting and want to extend to all who are reading this. I want each of you to feel free to walk alongside me during this journey/quest for understanding. My connection to Nohemi isn't only by coincidence. I made the effort to volunteer my time and energy to put on this conference that SHE attended. I feel confident that this story has more to do with the importance of investing in the lives of others... albeit small or large amounts. Tragedy will always strike. This senseless act that occurred in Paris and in other parts of the world will continue to happen. It might even happen more often than we think possible. But the value of investing in relationships, and in others, is what we can control and act upon. Perhaps, it’s what we are designed to do?