Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest
As a member of the alumni of UMass Boston and Goldwater Scholar, Stacy Okada shares her undergraduate experience in this podcast. Stacy graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry.
20 years after high school, Stacy started at MassBay Community College. The transition to college was hard, challenging, having to relearn study habits while managing a family with two very young children.
Stacy joins our podcast to share her undergraduate experiences, UG Research experiences at MassBay Community College and UMass Boston & winning the Goldwater Scholarship.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Stacy Okada of UMass: Goldwater Scholar, UG Research at MassBay Community College, and Second Chances.
20 years after high school, Stacy started at MassBay Community College. She decided to study science.
The transition to college was hard, especially while managing a family with two very young children.
Stacy joins our podcast to share her undergraduate experiences, UG Research experiences at MassBay Community College and UMass Boston, and winning the Goldwater Scholarship.
In particular, we discuss the following with her:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guests: Stacy Okada graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Stacy received the Associate’s degree in Forensic DNA Science from MassBay Community College. Stacy received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2016.
Memorable Quote: “And I know there are other people out there like me who didn't get it right the first time. And community colleges are just so big on second chances. That's why I love them with my whole heart.” Stacy Okada.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Similar Episodes: College Experiences , UG Research
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
I had had a daughter, and she was about to start kindergarten. And so we were already beginning to impress upon her the importance of college and to do that without being a hypocrite, I needed a degree. And so my plan was just to get an Associate's to sort of check that box and be able to preach college from a, you know, you know, with a leg to stand on.
That is Stacy Okada, a Goldwater Scholar who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UMass Boston.
Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.
20 years after high school, Stacy started at MassBay Community College.
She decided to study science.
The transition to college was hard, challenging, having to relearn study habits while managing a family with two very young children.
Venkat Raman 1:16
Stacy joins our podcast to share her undergraduate experiences, UG Research experiences at MassBay Community College and UMass Boston & winning the Goldwater Scholarship.
Venkat Raman 1:31
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
Yeah, I took a 20 year gap. Okay. And, you know, and I think again, that that's, that's important because there are others like me who have forgotten everything, they don't remember their algebra, they don't know how to rearrange it. And then I wouldn't want that to hold them back either from starting.
You know, it was certainly challenging. I had also had our second child who was then 10 weeks old when I first started. So between that and a toddler, what I love love about the community college system is that the classes at night allowed me to be with the kids during the day, so my husband could work. And then when he was home at night, I was at college.
So he had us doing everything his famous teaching style would be to dump something on our level, pretty much beyond our current ability, or just make us rise to the occasion. And he tested us this way again and again and again, to the point where it's so expected that I just I've just gotten used to it I used to be so nervous about presenting and all of this stuff, but he just trial by fire in a way. But then also, surprisingly there to pick you up when you didn't do as well.
[How UG Research Shaped her Education]
It's definitely been impactful. I think most especially on my resume. Not only was it validating like, these people think I'm worthy. They see me they see what I'm doing and they find me worthy that was amazing. But you know, fresh out of college with no industry experience on my resume. I was working I think I job hooded for three weeks, and was had no trouble getting a job.
[Advice for High Schoolers]
But I know there's other people out there like me who didn't get it right the first time and community colleges are just so big on second chances. That's why I love them with my whole heart. And I would just say like, Don't be afraid. I I remember how fearful I was and you have to want it more than you fear it. And that was like my mantra.
Venkat Raman 3:50
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 4:01
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Stacy.
So without further ado, here is Stacy Okada!
Venkat Raman 4:11
So if you're ready, we can jump right into it. I'd love to. Cool. So maybe the best place to start would be with an overview of your undergraduate research experience, you know, now looking back, and then and then we can sort of dive into different aspects of it.
Okay, that sounds great. So I was able to conduct research in the Elliot lab at Boston University. It's a biochemistry lab that focuses largely on metal centered proteins. And at that time, I'd taken just one chemistry class, and I'd only been in college for about a year. So I was I was in over my head. And the day that they handed me my project, I literally had to go home and Google every word. I had no idea what any any of it was. About, but under the patience and guidance of my mentor, Kimberly risotto, I survived. And I emerged really just on a whole different level, I would say that she taught me how to dissect the recent literature by asking of it the right questions, and then how to tease out the answers, assuming they'd yet been discovered. And then how to present those questions, interrogations and results comprehensively. And I would say that that is the piece that became most strongly Incorporated, who I am today as a scientist.
Venkat Raman 5:34
So maybe let's start with, you know, looking back further, maybe your high school, how things were at high school, what were you like, and then make our way to the college years?
Yeah, I would say I was in crisis, I'd run away from home several times in high school, and had some pretty serious struggles with addiction. And I share that, because I know there are students will reach who are there now. And I, I just want them to know it can be done, it doesn't matter. If you've made it does not matter. So, but when I was phases, I was highly social, I loved drama in gymnastics. And I always, always, always loved science, I always knew that if I did find my way to college, it would be science that could keep me entertained. So my middle school sciences had made that pretty instantly clear.
Venkat Raman 6:30
So from high school, you go to MassBay. Was that right away after high school? Or did you take a gap? Or?
Oh, I took, I took a 20 year gap. Okay. And, you know, and I think again, that that's, that's important, because there are others like me, who have forgotten everything. They don't remember their algebra, they don't know how to rearrange it.
And then I wouldn't want that to hold them back, either from starting, right. You know, it was tough, I'd forgotten everything, and forgotten how to study how to read the chapter ahead of class and to know what questions I would need to ask on that chapter. I didn't remember to practice the question, the end of the chapters, I did remember how to take excellent notes. Thanks to my sixth grade science teacher, I can't remember his name, who had taught us that skill with just as much dedication as the science itself.
So that's one piece of advice I would offer anybody who like me, you know, is starting college or even even immediately after high school those secrets to read that chapter, read the syllabus, know what the lecture will be about, read the chapter first, because then you'll know what you don't understand. And that will save you.
Venkat Raman 7:42
So you took a, I mean it was a 20 years gap. What motivated you to come back to college? Or go to college? In this case.
Yeah, well, I taken a class like 20 years ago, I think I took a psych class, and I took basic math class, but I didn't have a degree or anything close to it. And I, you know, 20 years later, I'd been very happy. I was a chef, I was in real estate, I was living my own life. I liked all of that.
But I had had a daughter, and she was about to start kindergarten. And so we were already beginning to impress upon her the importance of college and to do that without being a hypocrite, I needed a degree. And so my plan was just to get an Associate's to sort of check that box and be able to preach college from a, you know, you know, with a leg to stand on.
Venkat Raman 8:36
So you go over to MassBay. So tell us about that experience. Oh, how was that? How was that transition? Once you kind of settled in?
You know, it was certainly challenging. I had also had our second child who was then 10 weeks old when I first started. So between that and a toddler, what I love, what I love about the community college system is that the classes at night allowed me to be with the kids during the day, so my husband could work. And then when he was home at night, I was at college, and that I couldn't have done that, you know, at a four year. So, but it was definitely, I can't even tell you how transformative it was just sort of being practiced on what it was going to be like to be in that sort of industry as opposed to the sort of real estate cheffing industry work that I was more accustomed to.
Venkat Raman 9:35
Tell us how you got introduced to research. How did you discover that, or did that find you?
That was all through the professor that I ended up under. When you first joined the biotech program at MassBay. You first have to meet with the head of the department, which I thought was like an unnecessary and annoying obstacle. And then I met him And Dr. Bruce Jackson, and he had this famous black leather couch in his office. And I remember sitting there speaking with him, and he's very stoic, very matter of fact, very, you're here, this is what you're going to do. And I was just, I remember sitting there just shaking with nerves, because I knew like my life had changed. And I didn't know how I know why I just knew that.
From this day forward, everything would be different. So research, you've asked about research. So he had us doing everything his famous teaching style would be to dump something on our pretty much beyond our current ability, or just make us rise to the occasion. And he tested us this way again, and again, and again, to the point where it's so expected that I just, I've just gotten used to it, I used to be so nervous about presenting and all this stuff, but he just trial by fire in a way. But then also, surprisingly, there to pick you up when you didn't do as well, like when I got my first see on a test, I went to him, fearing he'd be disappointed. And only then did he tell me, he'd failed a test or to himself. So we just really interesting and he had me doing.
Let's see, we did a few different things. But the thing I spent the most time on was trying to optimize a protocol to extract DNA from human bone and more specifically, ancient bone. A lot of fun.
Venkat Raman 11:26
So, tell us tell us about that.
Stacy O 11:30
Well, there's different things you can do. So one of the things that makes bone difficult is that the DNA is sort of encased in this bone matrix, this mineral matrix. And so you have to sort of try to melt that away without impacting the DNA. And so what we did was tamper with different things like increasing the temperature of the incubation where the bone is removed, or the duration, different forms of DNA extraction and purification itself. Like fetal chloroform was one that we tried, that one stands out, this was seven years ago now. Because we actually saw some pretty clean results with that. And what we found, depending on which path we chose to get to our result, there was always sort of give and take, like maybe we got higher yields, but less purity, for example, or greater purity, but lower yields. So and then I graduated without ever having a firm answer, but I learned how, like how to play with it, how to change things and see the impacts. And that's something I use now day to day in my actual career.
Venkat Raman 12:37
Venkat Raman 12:42
So what what kind of impact was this having on you? I mean, doing research, I mean, you obviously there were classes and classroom instruction. But what was research doing for you?
Well, I can tell you that everything I learned in that lab, my, you know, two year, associate's degree, community college lab, that's the stuff that I'm doing all day now. Whereas my four year, I don't really use any of those skills. There's a few that I use, but I also had learned them first in in the community college. So I mean, he would have us do things like, and everyone who who hears this is like, wait, what you read, you do that, but it has helped, he would have us graph our pipetting. Like if we were to pipette a microliter, make sure it may weighed a microgram. And you actually plot that on a graph and try to just get it perfect. And just get it perfect. And just get it perfect. And people who ever heard this word thinking it was completely bonkers. But yet, when I went to my research experience at Boston University, my my mentor who was not always lavished with praise, one thing she point out was that she was impressed with my pipetting skills. So yeah, it was pretty neat. It was pretty neat. Having a lot of hands on experience that recent graduates don't necessarily have.
Venkat Raman 14:05
So at some point you applied for the Goldwater Scholarship. And how did that come about? And why did you apply and how to, how did all that work out?
Well, again, that was entirely Dr. Jackson, he had, when I first began, my plan had been to just go part time. And one of the first things he did, was marched me out of his class and to the registrar and insists that I enroll full time and just figure out the rest later. And like, you don't tell Dr. J. No. So I went and I did this, you know, and his reason was that once I was full time, I could apply for more scholarships. And so I did it not because I ever thought I'd be awarded, but just because I want to be in troubles. So and then and then I was awarded and it's definitely Have you been impactful? I think most especially on my resume, not only was it validating, like, these people think I'm worthy. They see me they see what I'm doing. And they find me worthy. That was amazing. But, you know, fresh out of college with no industry experience on my resume, I was working, I think I Job had it for three weeks, and was had no trouble getting a job. And I kept hearing your resumes, you know, pretty impressive. And it's the only thing on there that differentiates me from the other college graduates really is, is scholarships. So I think I think it's made a huge difference in getting my foot in doors that would otherwise have been entirely close to me.
Venkat Raman 15:44
Just briefly take us through the scholarship process. I mean, did you have a research topic in mind? Or were you already doing some research that you wanted to apply the scholarship for? How did that work? Tell us a little bit about that.
So it was the research I did at Boston University that was sort of part of my scholarship application. It's a really amazing program. There's usually 1000 or more, I think, in my year, there was 1100 applicants nationwide. And while they normally only take 10, if I recall that year, they took 11. So it's highly highly competitive. It was, you know, definitely my grades and my recommendations, and most especially Dr. Jackson's, that got me into the research position, which I believe was how I was awarded the scholarship. I think having that in my sort of portfolio was an edge.
Venkat Raman 16:46
So once you graduated, I mean, once you finished your AA degree, you move to University of Massachusetts, right? For your four year college, is that correct?
Stacy O 16:59
That is correct.
Venkat Raman 17:01
So so how was that transition? I mean, from a two year to four year now. And, yeah, full time, part time, how did you do that?
Believe I went full time, I believe that I had to do to the conditions, the requirements of the scholarship, if they're going to fund that, I believe you have to be full time. So I did do that. It was tough. It was a big commute. It was about an hour and a half round trip every day from where I'm at. And I definitely experienced the phenomenon known as transfer shock. I had a hard time keeping my grades up. They were never as good as they had been at my community college. There was no longer training wheels and hand holding. And that may sound condescending, but I don't mean it that way at all. Yeah, I definitely needed that support. I succeeded only because of that support at the community college. And it's also because of that support, that when my three kids go to college, I'm hoping they'll start at a community college. I think it left me better prepared for the four year. So but yeah, I went from a school of 1600 students to one of 16,000 classes. In some cases, I was used to a classroom of six, two, it went to 300. Professors, they didn't have the time for each student, as my former professors had. Yeah. And I found that the campus itself was much bigger. So getting from one class to another was just very physically, like you'd have to dash it would be like sweating in the hall and out of breath. And it's just a massive, massive campus, as opposed to my familiar little community college.
Venkat Raman 18:40
So how are the academics compared to MassBay? How did you feel? the classes?
Well, both were rigorous. But I found there's just, there's just something different about the professors at my community college and I hear this frequently from other people from other community colleges. I can't tell you how many times a professor would, you know, stay after class to help me with a problem or there's just they're invested in a way that I can't explain. And I did experience some of that at UMass Boston. But it was more of the exception rather than the rule. And it's not to take anything away from those professors. They are busy, they have a massive student body. But it was just it's very different. You know, there's very different the the rigor is about the same, but I think that the sort of underlying support network is far stronger than a community college at least that mine
Venkat Raman 19:37
Did it take some time for you to adjust to that I mean, in terms of just the quality of the studies or the difficulty was it was it difficult or was it just different?
Stacy O 19:50
It was difficult. It was a difficult transition. I don't know that I ever really adjusted I think that the the impact. Did did show up my grades, they were just never as good. The standard that I was used to keeping, I could just never uphold it there. And a lot of that was, you know, the commute. But a lot of it was also, it depended too, like, there were some classes that did have, you know, office hours, I would say most had office hours. And I took advantage of those, like whenever I could. But it was just different. I felt more of a nuisance, whereas it was, I felt more welcomed back at MassBay. Like, it was almost like they were expecting, they were expecting to provide that support at MassBay. Whereas it my next College, there's just so many of us and Sure, and different.
Venkat Raman 20:45
So how will your peers I mean, you were almost 20 years, Yeah, their senior? How did, Yeah, How was that?
Surprisingly, and this, you know, I never expected this, because of exactly what you said I was 20 years, their senior I was, you know, I had a couple of kids, I was just a totally different place in my life. But I did make lifelong friends. I mean, there's a few that from my community college that I that I am still close with. And a group of us actually went on from MassBay to UMass Boston. So already I sort of that same friend group kind of went with me. And, and that was neat. And I you know, I added a little bit to the to the pot like you know, I've buddies from my physics class from UMass Boston, I still keep up with and, and all of that, but there was just a sense of community as a community college that well, no pun intended, that that actually it, it was just unique, and it was unexpected. And there's just, there's just nothing like those, those lab mates, right, those first lab mates, those times struggling through, like, Why can't Why isn't my plasmid showing up on the general? I mean, those suffering moments together are very bonding, for sure.
Venkat Raman 22:02
You Alluded to this a little bit earlier. How was the research at UMass what what kind of things did you do there? Now that you had the scholarship, and,
you know, it was entirely different? What, what we did, we had to do a mini thesis, which was daunting. And the year that we did it, it was the first year that it was being introduced into the program. And our professors were very tough on us, which always, I don't, I don't pretend to like it when it's happening. But I always know that in the long run, it's gonna make us stronger. Like, that's what Dr. J taught me. So I, you know, I knew that. So we had to do a mini thesis, and mine was on inorganic pyrophosphate taze hppa, one, which during DNA thin synthesis, it catalyzes the addition of a nucleotide to the growing strand of DNA as it's created complementary to the template strand. So that's even for me as a scientist, very complicated. But it was the quality of writing that we had to put out, really pushed me into, sort of, and this is, this theme has been present since day one of, you know, my, my college career that day, but do I really understand this enough to explain it? Can I draw it out? Can I explain it to my kids? It's, it's when you have to go that deep into an understanding when you have to gain that deep of an understanding. I think that's like, the time I learned best. And I think that's probably true of all of us. Yeah. So that was, that was the most I think, intense test of that, I think was like 30 pages. That was a first for me.
Venkat Raman 23:53
Now, did you find culturally, was UMass? About the same in terms of encouragement for undergraduate research as mass way? Or how did you find people to compare the two?
You know, that's hard to say, because I wasn't really seeking it to the same degree. I don't know what what it would have been like, if I if I had I, in the beginning, when as soon as Dr. J got a hold of me, it was and, you know, started talking to me about scholarships. And I had told him, You know, I'm just here to get my associates and then I want to go teach some science class and keep the same sort of schedule as my kids. He's like, no, no, your bachelor's degree, and then PhD, that's what's happening. And that was his sort of attitude with all of his students. Like he really wanted to set us on this, like that trajectory. But sort of shortly after his passing, I just, I realized it kind of crystallized my priorities. And suddenly this PhD thing that I thought I was going to be striving For, it just wasn't even on the shortlist of what really mattered to me and where I wanted to spend my time, it was too much time away from my kids. And I began to sort of step back. So with that, the need for this undergraduate research as a means to continue on that path wasn't as strong. So if I'd fallen into it, I probably would have loved it. But I didn't, I wasn't actively seeking it out anymore. Whereas back at MassBay, I didn't really even know it was something I should be striving for. I mean, I had no idea my my, I didn't come from a family where my parents had been to college, I, I didn't even know what it meant, what is undergraduate research, what's an undergraduate? I didn't know there was like this bar at which I should hold my GPA and then apply for scholarship, I knew nothing. So it was only through. Basically, his and I hear this from others, too. There's always for stories like mine, there is seems to always be this one person who takes someone by the hand and shows them the way, right. And that was how I ended up doing the undergraduate research that I did. I was told if you want to get here, you have to first step here, and then this step, and then this step. And that's how I came into it. So it's guidance, right? It's guidance and mentorship that that led to the undergraduate research that I was able to do.
Venkat Raman 26:27
So how did you pick your major? I mean, I believe you majored in biochemistry? Yeah. Yeah. How did you how'd you end up with that?
So I kind of love this question. I'd always known it was going to be science, and especially biology, I'd always loved it all the frogs, the moss, the immune system, anything fascinating. And I also always thought that I hated chemistry. But given that I'd never actually taken it, I now realized I was just afraid of it because everyone always said it was so hard. So but when you are genuinely fascinated with something, it makes learning it less painful. And one professor in particular Farkhondeh Khalili back at MassBay. And she's one of whom I speak, when I say, professors who were always willing to, you know, say after class or see you pulling your hair out in the academic advisement Center, which is like our tutoring center, and they would just pop in and be like, you're good. Let me help you with this. And yeah, but it was these professors, right? She was always so helpful. And Andrew Staley's another one, his passion and humor in organic chemistry, which is the class that like terrifies everyone made it our favorite class, our favorite class. And when I say our I mean, like my group of friends that I made at Mass data ended up at UMass, like, this is not just me who feel this way, we were all scared of Origo. And then we had stay lean. It was fun. It was really fun. So and then I took my first biochemistry class with Dr. Ponce. And that's when I knew biochemistry was going to be it. So biology was no longer like enough. And I out of hunger for that chemistry component. I did change my plans from a biology to a biochemistry degree, even though it meant an extra year of exceptionally more difficult classes, especially for someone like me, who's math background never recovered from the 20 years of rest. And so that's physical and analytical chemistry, I'm speaking of specifically to be clear.
Venkat Raman 28:32
So you know, along the way, you've obviously done, went back to college did a lot of research extra propel you through your four years of college? What What kind of skills? Did you pick up? Doing research? What do you think you got out of it in terms of skills compared to just the in class instruction?
Well, definitely the hands on is everything just I mean, learning how to really focus on what's coming out of your pipette, what's going into it? Is there an air bubble? Is there a coating on the outside of the tip? Is it really the amount that it's supposed to be transferring? I think that's a big one. And I knew I wouldn't have had that if I just gone from graduating into, you know, into industry. And sometimes it matters. There are some assays that are very, very sensitive to these slight deviations and, you know, concentrations and volumes. And that's, it's such a basic, basic thing, but it's so critical. And then just knowing that research means sometimes doing the same thing over and over again, all day every day so that you know, the anticipated results well enough to see when something's a little off and to find out why is it is it that you're, you know, bacterias has mutated? Is it that something is wrong with a lot of reagents? Did you pipette badly that day? Was it that air bubble? I mean, just knowing knowing how what you're doing is going to impact the results and knowing when your results are a little A little bit off
Venkat Raman 30:05
you've had a pretty interesting sort of route to getting your degree. If you were to be, if you were to go back in time, say after high school, would you do things differently? Or do you think this? I understand? You're at a good spot now? Yeah, but would you? What would you have done differently? Let me just leave it at that.
You know, I probably would have gone straight out of high school if I could, if I could do it all again. In my case, I was completely ready. I wasn't ready mentally. I wasn't ready. Emotionally, I I had no discipline, I guess is the right word. I didn't have it at that time. I know, it was too busy. Work, you know, we're kicking my demons out. I guess I don't know what to say. I just said too much. Too much going on. I don't see that I could have settled down and done it. Well, but if I could have, then I would like to say that I would that I would have. So it's kind of a complicated question. It's just not it's not so black and white? I wish that I could have because then I would have but I don't think I could have, I think is my official answer.
Venkat Raman 31:17
No, that's fair. And actually one of the one of the corollary questions is really, that is that drive that you had 20 years later? Would you have been able to capture that, you know, at the age of 17?
Stacy O 31:31
That's No, no, I don't think so. Because it came from wanting to be an example for my children. It was wanting to give them a different life, I was happy with the way that I was sort of not really tied down, could do whatever, I want surf all day, Chef all night, a very, sort of free spirited lifestyle. But once I had kids, that all changed, my idea of the perfect life completely morphed. And it meant it meant this, it meant a degree and it meant a stable future. And it meant encouraging them through college, which I had to do it myself. And then what I didn't expect was how much I loved it, I really enjoyed it, I miss it still, there's days when I'm like, oh, maybe a master's in immunology. Like, I just feel like I'm, I would say every day, I feel like I'm not done yet. But then on the other hand, what I'm surprised to be learning is that college isn't the only way to gain the knowledge, like I have this appetite for so much more understanding of, you know, the mechanisms and all of that. But I'm getting that in industry too. And I didn't expect that. So that's, that's a pleasant surprise. I really went through kind of a grieving period when I decided, you know, PhD, not for me. And yet, the next thing I knew I was learning just as much. So it's different, but it's certainly satisfying.
Venkat Raman 33:01
Actually, let me ask you this question. You. You said you were into real estate, you were chef, and now you're a scientist. At the breaking edge of technology research. Do you find this role more fulfilling? Is that somehow raising your self esteem? How do you feel?
I mean, I just, I would say, both of those things. Definitely. I, at the company that I'm at now, I think so every every company has like its mission statement, this is what we do. This is why we do it. And those things matter, like the, the sort of, what's the word I'm looking for? It matters to me to make a difference. I want my life to mean something. When it's over, you know, and where I'm at now, I feel like that's truer than it's ever been.
And I feel like our founder and my colleagues, I mean, we all really try to live it and the question, when we're looking at a few different ways to approach the problem, whatever the problem of the day is working or whatever, whatever it is, the decision is made based on how can we best help our patients. And I've, I've never lived that as fully as I get to today. And that's huge. It's a really big deal.
And then sort of and that's like kind of the broader answer but then on the more sort of personal thing is just having survived college having proven to myself that I could do it, I didn't know I could, you know, I didn't I was so afraid I was gonna fail when I first enrolled I was so afraid I'm gonna fail I'm not gonna be able to do it. I'm gonna fail in front of my kids and my family and my friends.
And I not only survived but I kind of slayed just that was yeah, my confidence in my faith in myself went went way up. You know, it So not many people get to sort of mess up as badly as I did. I mean, I made all the wrong choices. And that's something you're always aware of. There's always sort of, I guess, a sense of shame surrounding that. And that's obliterated by what I've pulled off.
Venkat Raman 35:14
So no, I mean, it's super awesome. I mean, amazing. Congratulations. I mean, I really you have such a inspiring story. It's just amazing.
Stacy O 35:26
Venkat Raman 35:27
Venkat Raman 35:32
Okay, so it's time for some advice. What would you tell High Schoolers of today, what do you tell your kids?
Yeah. So and that, that's so important to me, because I feel like I do have this kind of unique sort of experience and perspective. And I know there's other people out there like me who didn't get it right the first time and community colleges are just so big on second chances. That's why I love them with my whole heart. And I would just say, like, Don't be afraid. I. I remember how fearful I was, and you have to want it more than you fear it. And that was like my mantra, and I've said it a bazillion times. want it more than you fear it. Remember that? Yes, it's scary. But take that first step. And the only difference between me and the people who are out there just considering this, but kind of afraid. The only difference between me and them is that I took that first step. And that's all they have to do to like cross the distance, right? Just take a step, roll with it, do your best face your worst fears. So what if you fail a class and have to retake it? It's not going to matter when you're walking that stage. So what if you get a bad grade, three weeks before finals was when we lost Dr. J. And I was a zombie during those exams. And then during my second year, again, just a few weeks before finals, I found out that I at 41 years old was expecting our third child. So this meant that I was 42 years old and eight months pregnant during finals. The next semester, I couldn't sit and study, I could barely get off the floor, and I got a few deets and I took an incomplete and I'm doing cancer research at my dream job two years after graduation with awesome benefits in the cushiest Labs I've ever been in. Stay the course. And you'll get to that finish line with all those D's, I promise you.
Venkat Raman 37:21
Before we wind down here, any interesting memory anecdote vignette that you would like to share.
I mean, there's just there's so many little things, all of it, right? Like the struggle, the camaraderie of sitting around the table in the Academic Achievement Center, like the room overflowing with people sitting around this table, trying to get that last minute studying in organic chemistry, especially, you know, 24 hours straight living on Red Bull and, like, donated. That feeling, there's just nothing like it, there's and I miss it. I miss it terribly. I missed the professors who were so kind to sit with us all I mean it even the hard times, right? taught me something made me stronger, and Dr. J putting us to the test and I just want him to be in tears then. But now when I'm faced with those things, I am not crying. I'm cool, whatever I've done this 10 times. Thanks, Dr. J. So it's there's just nothing like it. And I I just don't think it would have been this way if I'd gone straight to a four year so I always, always appreciate MassBay for that.
Venkat Raman 38:35
Awesome. station. Thank you so much for sharing your story in so much detail. And thanks for having me very been extremely generous. So thank you so much. And good luck. And I'm sure we'll talk more but I'd like that. I'll say goodbye right now. We'll talk soon.
Stacy O 38:56
All right, enjoy your weekend. Thank you.
Venkat Raman 38:58
Thank you again
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Stacy Okada on her undergraduate journey.
This is a story of second chances!
It is amazing how Stacy found the motivation and drive after 20 years, to get a college degree, to be a genuine role model for her children.
Stacy found a great mentor at MassBay in Dr J who challenged her to do more.
She won the Goldwater Scholarship and later, transferred to University of Massachusetts to pursue the 4-year program.
I hope you find Stacy’s podcast inspiring.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org].
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