Aloha! My name is Amber and I am a proud Biology graduate from the Class of 2004. One of my lifelong goals has always been to come home and serve my community. After living on the continent for almost a decade and traveling around the world, I am happy to be back at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM) as an Academic Advisor in the College of Natural Sciences.
Waiting in line to get my diploma!
I was born and raised in Hawaiʻi and grew up in Chinatown, above the lei stands. I had the great privilege of attending La Pietra School from 6th grade on a scholarship. Being raised by a single mother with three daughters (including me) meant that money and time were extremely limited. Receiving this scholarship changed the course of my life forever by putting me on a path for success. I graduated from La Pietra and became a student at UHM to pursue a college degree and improve my life.
As an incoming freshman, I took mostly general education classes but my plan was to be a History major. Being on campus and taking classes was so different than my experience at La Pietra. I was a very small (literally and figuratively) fish in a great big ocean of thousands of students. As a true introvert, I had a small group of friends and didn’t really venture out of my comfort zone.
One day during a Physics lecture, some students came to promote the Haumana Biomedical Research Program. I didn’t have any plans for the summer and did not want to take summer school because it was so expensive. Instead I decided to apply to this program and see what would happen. I was very hesitant because I didn’t understand what research was, let alone think that I could spend a whole summer doing research in a lab! I also didn’t think that they would choose someone like me, who wasn’t even planning on majoring in science. I was offered an interview and shortly after, learned that I was accepted into the summer program. After learning molecular biology techniques and conducting experiments to carry out steps of the scientific process, I started to think that science was super cool! I learned how to amplify genetic DNA through a process called the Polymerase Chain Reaction, also known as PCR. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full-year position, which was awesome, because I was able to take more science courses and do research on campus.
In Washington D.C. attending my very first conference, the National Minority Research Symposium, with other Haumana students.
The Haumana Program opened my eyes to the world of research and the idea of pursuing science. I quickly declared Biology as my major and began taking the required Chemistry and Biology courses. Taking BIOL 275 (Cell and Molecular Biology) from Dr. Steve Robinow sparked my interest in DNA repair and molecular mechanisms and from then on, I was hooked! I became a huge science nerd and began to seriously consider a career in science and research. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Stipends for Training Aspiring Researchers (STAR) Program at the University of Washington. Spending that summer in Seattle helped me see that there were so many opportunities out there. I came back to Mānoa ready to rock-and-roll and continued doing research through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) Program at UHM. Through the Haumana and MARC U-STAR Programs, I was able to attend and present at scientific conferences across the continent, as well as Hong Kong. After five years at Mānoa, I eventually graduated with my BS degree in Biology in 2004 (back then they didn’t have the Molecular Cell Biology degree, but I did do my concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology) and was headed back to Seattle to start my doctoral program in Molecular Cellular Biology.
The first of many Seattle Mariners games that I would watch as a summer student and then later as a graduate student.
After seven long years, I completed my dissertation, Involvement of DNA repair factors, WRN and MRE11, in the response to the chemotherapeutic agent, camptothecin, and graduated with my Ph.D. in Molecular Cellular Biology and a Certificate in Molecular Medicine. I was very passionate about science education and diversity throughout graduate school and helped build the SACNAS Student Chapter at the University of Washington. Although our Chapter went on to win many awards and recognition, I feel that our biggest accomplishment was building connections to and within our communities to promote diversity in the sciences.
Earning my Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a Certificate in Molecular Medicine from the University of Washington.
In my post-grad school years, I enjoyed teaching and mentoring students while also supporting diversity. I had the privilege to teach college-level Biology and Human Anatomy and Physiology at different institutions in Washington and Hawai’i, and also teach Biotechnology abroad in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. My goal to use my experiences to serve my community is now being fulfilled. In my current position as an Academic Advisor, I am able to share my perspective while also supporting students to fulfill their dreams.
If I had to share some advice to students in the process of chasing their dreams, it would be to 1) have an open-mind and say “yes” to opportunities; and 2) find mentors who can support and guide you along the way. Having an open mind is essential to growth. There are many times where I have felt scared or hesitant about participating in something new, but each time I was able to overcome my fear of saying “yes.” I was able to learn and experience the world and its people, which has made a huge impact in my life. Surrounding yourself with people who encourage and inspire you is also very important. Even though the interactions may be limited, getting outside perspectives from mentor(s) are invaluable. They are able to offer support, suggestions, encouragement and sometimes even a letter of recommendation. I am so thankful for the mentors that I’ve had throughout my journey. For me, they have provided inspiration to pursue my goals, motivation to keep going, and words of wisdom and encouragement during hard times.
I am indebted to these two women who helped me realize my full potential! Dr. Jermelina Garibay-Tupas (center) interviewed me for the Haumana Program and gave me the chance to experience research. She is now the Acting Division Director of the Division of Human Resource Development at the National Science Foundation. Dr. Maile Goo (right) has been a rock in my life and has known me since I was 18! My mentor who I can always get advice from, but also my colleague and friend. She is a Faculty Specialist in the Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity (SEED) at UHM.
Coming back to Mānoa has been surreal. I reminisce of “old” memories while also creating “new” ones. Although many things have changed, I still feel comfort and familiarity when I come to campus and know that UHM will always have a special place in my heart. I am excited to be a part of academia, and serve Hawaiʻi students and the greater community.