For how many years did you attend Winooski schools?
Nine years total, starting from the 4th grade and up through my senior year of high school.
Were there any adults in the Winooski schools that had a really positive impact on you? (teachers, coaches, etc.)
I really liked my world history/geography teacher Ms. Toland””she always had a lot of enthusiasm and would come up with new ways to make us care. I also liked my English teacher, Mrs. Lawson””she was tough, but she drove you to work harder because her standards were a little higher and you knew she believed in you.
What was your favorite learning experience during your time in the Winooski schools?
My senior project in high school was the most memorable learning experience. Back then, all seniors had to complete an independent learning project to graduate; you could pick any subject to study so long as you could write and talk extensively about it. I learned to paint with acrylics and it was kind of fun.
Did you feel prepared for college? Work/career?
On the whole I felt prepared for college. In subject areas like history, english, geography, and biology, I felt pretty much on par with my college classmates. The only subject in which I felt that my high school education was inadequate was math. In introductory genetics, we had to calculate the probability of different phenotypes resulting from dihybrid and trihybrid crosses and I felt at a complete loss because I didn”t understand the math behind it. We never covered probability in high school. I dropped the course my first year, but retook it a couple years later and it made much more sense after I took introduction to probability and statistics.
Where do/did you got to college? What did you study? Did you get a degree?
I went to Smith College in Northampton, MA and I got a Bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry.
What other activities were you involved in during college?
Did you try anything new? What did you learn about yourself in college?
I was in the fencing club for two years””I didn”t even know what fencing was until I tried it. I was a board member of the Vietnamese Students” Association all four years of college. I also spent two years doing independent laboratory research in a biochemistry lab which culminated in a senior thesis. I remember entering college and thinking that I would figure out what I wanted to do with my life by the end of four years. By the time that I graduated, I still didn”t know. I learned that sometimes it takes a long time to figure out your life calling, and that’s perfectly fine. Some of the most interesting people I know are in their mid-thirties and still don”t know what to do with their lives.
Where do you work now? What is your title/position? What do you do (job responsibilities)?
I work for the Environmental Protection Agency as a chemical review manager in the Office of Pesticide Programs. Basically, I”m a liaison between the Agency, the pesticide industry, and the public. I help manage the preregistration of older pesticides to make sure that as the science and risk assessment methodologies evolve over time, the older pesticides are still safe for human health and the environment.
What advice would you give Winooski students about college and career if you knew then what you know now?
Don”t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help when you need it””don”t worry so much about what other people will think. Everyone else is just as confused as you are. Don”t let your pride stand in the way of your success.
Talk about Peace Corps and why you decided to apply, how was the experience would you recommend it to WHS students?
When I graduated college, I was physically and psychologically exhausted. I really wanted a break from academia and the prospect of going to medical school after the exhausting year I just had seemed overwhelming. I joined the Peace Corps on a whim after seeing a poster on campus and going to an info session. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and most importantly, I wouldn”t have to study or write anymore papers. Peace Corps volunteers get a living stipend and have all their housing and medical needs taken care of””it seemed like a nice vacation. It turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I worked in Niger, West Africa as a community health extension agent for 2.5 years. I lived in a mud hut in a rural Hausa village out in the middle of the desert. The climate was tough but the people were super friendly. The hardest challenge was not living without electricity or running water or a real toilet, but overcoming the cultural barriers and the locals” attitude of “there’s nothing I can do about this because God wills it” towards life’s setbacks. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I”m glad I joined the Peace Corps. It gave me a better perspective on the world and how other people live. I learned things about myself too. I had planned on going to medical school after the Peace Corps, but after working with sick people daily, I discovered that I didn”t really want to be a doctor. Most of my projects were successful. I had one well-building project that failed completely and utterly. The Peace Corps taught me that it was ok to fail. Failure is not something to be feared; it is unavoidable and it teaches you important lessons. I would recommend the Peace Corps to all young people. Even if you have no interest in the Peace Corps, everyone should live and work abroad at least once in their life.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
I don”t really have a vision of where I”ll be or what I”ll be doing in 5 or 10 years. I don”t plan that far in advance. Life has a way of screwing up all your plans.
-Interview by Heidi McLaughlin, VSAC