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Having been raised in fairly well-off parts of Southern California, never having interacted with different types of people, I began at Fullerton College as a narrow-minded, shy little girl. While I was at Fullerton College, I was forced through many hardships in my family situation. However, attending Fullerton College gave me the opportunity to meet supportive staff and faculty members who helped me through my transition into adulthood. While at Fullerton College, I also rediscovered my childhood passion for what is now becoming my future and met some inspirational people and supportive friends who have helped me keep hope and keep going throughout this process. Now graduated from Fullerton College and attending the University of California, Irvine as the only Plant Biology major on campus, I am prepared to face the challenges ahead and explore my curiosities.
Raised in Southern California in several well-to-do communities, I had always expected myself to go to a 4-year university immediately after high school just like everyone else I knew. I had applied to Biola, Azusa Pacific and Cal State Fullerton coming out of high school. However, after I received my three acceptance letters, I was told that we did not have the money to afford for me to go to a 4-year university. So, I followed my older brother to Fullerton College where tuition was more affordable. At first, I wasn’t fond of going to a community college while everyone else I knew bragged about going to USC, UCLA and other 4-year universities we had all dreamed of attending as a child. Many of my friends wondered why I went to a community college when I had grown up in such nice neighborhoods and my family seemed so well off. I felt like I didn’t fit in with any of them because they all had the money or smarts to get them a nice sum of scholarship money.
During my first year of schooling at Fullerton College, I was impressed by the inspirational teachers I had the fortune of meeting. The two most memorable professors from my first year were Dr. Bradley Dawson and Professor Ty Torres. Dr. Dawson was always so enthusiastic about teaching a class of non-biology majors about human biology. There were always questions about the oddities of the human body and Dr. Dawson would always do the best to answer our questions. In addition to all the human biology talk, he also shared with us his passion for microbiology and bird watching. On the non-science side of my academic life, I had the pleasure of being in Professor Torres’s Small Group Communication class. It was one of those eye-opening experiences of my college career. Not only did Professor Torres teach us what was taught in the textbook, but our final project was to apply everything we had theoretically learned. This project compelled us to use our new-found skills and gathered all our resources to begin and complete a successful toy drive for those less fortunate than ourselves. This first year experience solidified my self-acceptance of being a community college student. The next two years in school, I had finally decided to aim for a Biological Sciences degree. Along the way, three of my professors inspired me and guided me to becoming the aspiring biologist I am today: Professor Maala Allen, Dr. Kenneth Collins and Dr. Jo Wu. Maala Allen taught Organismal Biology to a large class, a class larger than an average Fullerton College science class at the time, of about 200 students. This class was an eclectic collection of students who came from all sorts of backgrounds and from all sorts of attitudes on education and biology in general. We had students who were hard to deal with and hated being in the class, to students who were only worried about grades and wanted to get into med school to achieve a well-earning job, to students who were genuinely interested in the world of biology. Professor Allen dealt with all these types of students with such grace and class as I’ve never expected nor seen in a professor, ever. She took the time to really get to know her students who wanted to learn and invited us to talk about our aspirations, our worries and the study of biology. Her passion for her students and her thorough teaching methods set my decision to study biology. Dr. Collins, on the other hand, was quite an interesting professor to have studied under. Dr. Collins had a love for ecology – and flies. We had glorious times taking field trips out in the cold San Gabriel Mountains and the lively desert during Spring Quarter 2010. As part of our final, Dr. Collins required us to collect several species of plants – or insects – during our field trips; this activity revitalized my childhood love for plants. Then, during my final year as a biology student at Fullerton College, I was introduced to Dr. Wu, just as every biology major at Fullerton College was. Not only was she a wonderful Cellular and Molecular Biology professor, but she was also a wonderful resource and she always pushed her students to do better and aim higher. Despite her busy involvement in advising the Science Club on campus, she also sent out frequent e-mails about new opportunities and possibilities to the numerous students in her classes. The amazing activities we did in class and the opportunities available to us outside of class because of Dr. Wu’s hard work and amazing connections made my Fullerton College experience a truly enriching experience, more so than I had ever imagined possible. Having the chance to have gone to Fullerton College and been a part of these professors’ classes helped me to find my life-long passion of biology.
At home, things got worse with the family. I began to pay for things many of my friends took for granted: gas, car insurance, and food. Because of this, I began to look for a job on-campus with the hopes of reducing the commuting costs of working off-campus. When I first began at Fullerton College in 2008, I got hired and worked at the bookstore. It was a simple job where I met new faces and new faces met me. During the summer of 2009, I saw a job posting on a white board outside the Cadena Transfer Center (CTC) on campus. I had never heard of such a place. As I peeked in, I found it rather warm and inviting, so I inquired about the job. After an interview, I secured a student office assistant position there. It didn’t seem much different from the office work I had done before working at the bookstore, but boy was I wrong. The CTC was a place, as I learned over the years, where many of us gathered together to share our troubles and form deep friendships with others – a place many of us considered “home”. “Home” started out with the comforting feeling of the cheerful decorations that were constantly changing from season to season, month to month. Then, it grew as connections were made with other students and the staff of the CTC. For many Fullerton College students, the campus was a commuter campus, we went to classes and then we went home. However, for the many of us who loved to hang out at the CTC, the campus was home. Many of us didn’t have a supportive family back home, or our family situations at home were difficult to deal with – some of us didn’t even have families. Thus, we made CTC a place to call home and feel at home on campus where we preferred to spend most of our time. While working at the CTC, I was introduced to and connected with some amazing people. Two particular gentlemen defined the term “truly inspirational” for me. One was a student with a special situation. He, unlike most people in college, was – literally – on his own. Carlos Zelaya had been an emancipated minor and had been working to pay his own way through life since he turned 17. Yet, despite the responsibilities and hardships of being on your own and being an adult, he had a rather cheerful disposition and maintained an optimistic, yet realistic, outlook on life. The other student came from a background I couldn’t fathom until I met him. His family wasn’t supportive of his desire to attend college. They believe in hard work and had desired for him to begin a job as soon as he finished his GEDs, as he didn’t complete high school the “traditional” route. Despite this, Chris Sanchez believed in the heart of education and lied to his parents about needing more time to complete his GEDs so that he could fulfill his dream of attending college. However, Chris did not just simply attend Fullerton College with me, he poured his heart and soul into it and became rather well-known on the Fullerton College campus for having connections with political figures (i.e. the mayor and some senators). Fullerton College was quite the place to meet people – especially at the CTC.
In between all the working and studying, I had little time for extracurricular activities. Everything I did was aimed towards my goal to complete a bachelor’s in biological sciences and to secure a job afterwards. I had a hard time balancing work and school, thus I never volunteered nor played sports nor went out to “have fun” like most college kids. Luckily for me, there was Project GPS2, currently known as Engage in STEM. This program was newly founded when I began at Fullerton College. Project GPS2 was directed by Professor Robert Ellis, a part-time faculty member who taught Marine Biology at Fullerton College and at other community colleges nearby. In addition to coordinating the project and teaching, he also took time to meet with us and get to know our stories of why we decided to pursue STEM, where we see ourselves going, and advise us on how we could proceed. Rob, as he had us call him, helped me along my way to looking for internships, which in turn set in stone my decision to be the only Plant Biology major at UC Irvine. With his help, along with all the wonderful professors I have had the chance to know, I did a short, weekend research experience at Cal State Fullerton and then furthered that experience with two summer internships at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Genomics, a research institution affiliated with Cornell University.
During the years I was at Fullerton College, there was a lot of construction going on. My first year there, the 400, science building was just seeing its last days before it was torn down and rebuilt completely from the ground up. Meanwhile, on the edges of campus, the pool and the Sherbeck field were beginning to be constructed. By the time I left Fullerton College in 2011, I had the chance to have classes in the brand new 400, science building with all of its new equipment and laboratories. I was one of the first groups of students to use the awesome new fumehoods for organic chemistry. Also, the pool had been completed and several classes occurred there consistently and the Sherbeck field had just begun to have its first group of athletes practicing on it as well as make use of its new field house.
Throughout my time at Fullerton College, I gained and took with me three things that have helped carry me forward into my future – other than my memories. The first and most obvious is my love for biology from my three years of studying under some of the most wonderful professors at Fullerton College. The second is my love for students and the student experience from the two years I worked at the CTC. The last and most important thing I’ve gained is my openness, acceptance and love for diversity from meeting such a variety of students and hearing their stories about their past troubles, their present struggles and their future goals. These, along with all I have learned and experienced, have set a foundation for my future career and goals.
“Keep going…each step may get harder, but don’t stop! The view is beautiful at the top!” ~Unknown
Life presents it challenges and hardships. I’ve had times when I didn’t believe I could make it through the rain and storm. But no matter how hard things get, there are people who’ve fared worse but have gotten past it and done better than you expect possible. If you can’t believe in yourself, trust those who believe in you that you can make it through.
University of California, Irvine
University Major Plant Biology