Santa Ana College (SAC) alumna Daria Estrada-Smith has taken her education straight to the top and has obtained her Ph.D. in Human Genetics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her educational expedition took longer than expected due to raising a family and other external factors, but she proves it can be done and is an inspiration to other returning students.
Determination, patience, self-motivation, and support from others are key for students in general. For returning students, however, these motivating factors are crucial.
“It wasn’t easy watching friends move on and transfer while I stayed behind to raise four children,” expressed Daria. “However, in retrospect, my lengthy stay at SAC allowed me to develop the perseverance and self-confidence that I needed to get through my doctoral studies.”
Before earning her associate degrees in biology and in liberal arts at SAC, Daria struggled to find her career path. She began her educational journey in the nursing program and ended up migrating through several majors trying to figure out her niche. Aware that she had gained a solid foundation and interest in science and math, she began tutoring biology and math classes at the college. At last, she enrolled in her very first human genetics course and that was when she decided to enter the biomedical research field.
Daria felt that studying human genetics was what she wanted to do because there was enough math and science to hold her attention, plus she was intrigued by the ethical implications essential to determining what makes humans human at the molecular level. Daria appreciates working on problems related to diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis, to which the answers will someday make a difference for her family and community.
In regard to preparation for her doctoral defense, she felt it was her chance to recap all of her knowledge throughout her education. It was her one chance to pull it all together for everyone to review and criticize.
“The process is invigorating and even a little bit sad, because for all the work that you’ve done there is that much more left undone,” voiced Daria stressing what a humbling experience it had been.
She hopes to do her post-doctoral training in the near future at the National Institutes of Health and has the long-term goal of working somewhere regarding medical genetics, which according to Daria is a nice cross between genetic counseling and research.
“But if it takes a village to raise a child… then it took two biology departments, three academic mentors, one tutoring program, four children, an extraordinarily supportive husband, and two generous parents to produce one Ph.D.,” exclaimed Daria who prevailed in the demands of family, work, school, and marriage.