Meet the Closing the Gap Guest Speaker for March 2022, Jennifer Wong-Ala!

Jennifer is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oceanography at Oregon State University.  Jennifer is not only pursuing a career in STEM, she is also doing important social justice work, and supporting efforts for inclusion and diversity in STEM fields in academia and at OSU.

Q: Please describe your educational/training background.

I earned my Associate of Science in Natural Science from Kapi’olani Community College and BS in Global Environmental Science from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. I earned my MS in Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences and am working on my Ph.D. in the same major.

Q: Please describe where you work & your occupation.

I am a graduate research assistant at Oregon State University.

Q: Career-wise, what have been your proudest moments/highlights/accomplishments so far?

Some of my proudest moments were presenting my senior thesis for my bachelor’s degree and graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I had a hard time trying to attend college for personal reasons and supported myself 100% since I was 18, so it was an uphill battle working and going to school simultaneously. Some of the highlights of my career that I am proud of were getting invited to speak on a SACNAS Community College panel as a graduate student and being awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Q: What are some of your future goals or things you would like to accomplish?

My immediate future goal would be to earn my Ph.D. in the next 3 – 4 years. After my Ph.D., I would like to become a government or academic researcher in my home island of O’ahu, Hawai’i.

Q: What have been some of your biggest career challenges?

My biggest career challenge has been fully supporting myself while attending college. A good amount of the money that paid my rent was provided by scholarships that required me to have a 3.0 or higher and be a full-time student. The other half of my money was from research assistant jobs on campus. Balancing my jobs, classes, and grades was a challenge that ultimately led to earning my BS and attending graduate school. My second biggest career challenge was moving to Oregon from Hawai’i for graduate school. I have lived in Hawai’i all of my life, and I had never been to Oregon before. It took me at least two years to adjust to attending a predominately white institution (PWI) and white state as a mixed Pacific Islander woman.

Q: Many young women might not be aware of the career available in STEM fields. What do you think can be done to spread the word to women about career options in these fields?

More personalized mentoring should be provided for women, gender non-conforming individuals, and minoritized individuals. Scientists and other academics should work with schools, especially low-income schools to see what the teachers would like to add to their curriculum and provide supplemental funding.

Q: Do you have any advice for women who are looking to follow in a similar career path?

I think it is really important to find your support system in your field of choice, such as senior scientists, professors, fellow students, etc., who you can vent to, ask advice from, and be with community when times are tough.

Q: What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

I like to watch anime and read manga in my free time. In general, I’m a big bookworm and enjoy reading fantasy, mystery, and thrillers.

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