T-5 Majors Till Liftoff

Did you have a childhood experience or outstanding guidance counselor that let you know before graduating high school the career path you were certain to stick with through adult life? I didn’t either. Here is a journey undertaken by me, which landed me at the career trajectory I see myself in now.

As a child, I was blessed with the free-thinking love and encouragement of my guardians. I will not forget my father telling me his recurring and inspiring belief: I could grow up to be an ice cream man (the first job I ever expressed wanting) and as long as I was happy, he would be proud of me.

As relatively few others experience, I also have had a trajectory offered from a financially stable upbringing that featured disposable income and room for academic and extracurricular growth. I was a “bright” and “gifted” student in my elementary years. This carried on into the 6th grade, where I achieved straight As and a vibrant outlook for academic success. I imagine the 2008 financial crisis hit many families more harshly than mine, but mine was not immune to its effects.

Although in theory, we could have sustained financial equivalence to our pre-crisis lifestyle, the economic crash simply triggered psychological traumas that preceded it. My mother was wrongfully terminated from her job as a Labor and Delivery RN. This caused a shift in our at-home dynamics that would last through the end of high school. School and higher education were now seen as “lacking any guarantees” and “potentially a huge waste of time” rather than the natural next step following a secondary education. I had strong faith in my family, and these new ideologies coupled with the start of puberty, influenced me to live for the moment and not take academics seriously.

I believe I managed to fail through middle school and also several classes during the first two years of high school. I also managed to transfer to a continuation high school in my junior year, which I had always believed, per my older peers, was a way to make up for all the fails and be able to graduate on time from my regular high school. I learned after one semester there that for most people, this is not the case; most people stay there, and hope to graduate, from there, on time. I switched into maximum overdrive and finished ten classes that spring semester. Completing my senior year at my city’s traditional high school, having done enough the previous year, to still leave at lunch.

P.S. for a few years after the termination, of feeling like she was to blame, my mother had filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. The arbitration was brutal and unfair (those responsible blatantly lied at every opportunity), yet she prevailed with a ruling in her favor, officially marking the termination as wrongful.

At this point in the story, I had moved 200 miles northwest and begun my college career from the comfort of my grandfather’s van. After changing the bumper, 2 fenders, shocks and structs of my 1990 Toyota Camry (which I paid $650 out of the $1,300 that it cost) during my senior year, I decided I was going to study auto mechanics and looked forward to landing a job that paid around $20 per hour instead of the minimum wage which was $8.50 at the time. A huge factor in wanting to do this stemmed from the belief that I could not afford to matriculate for a bachelor-level field of study. I intended to work a minimum wage job and pay for each $46 unit at the community college I attended. Lo and behold, financial aid is a thing that exists. I was eligible to be granted free tuition + ~$5,000 cash per year to attend a community college as a California resident. This was a chance for me to explore any major at the Moorpark College transfer fair, aimed at providing students with the opportunity to speak with representatives from 4-year universities across the state. My initial interest was sparked by a good conversation I had with a rep from UC Davis regarding their Computer Science program. I soon discovered the level of math required and pushed that major aside since during high school, I dodged any rigor, mathematical or otherwise, that was not necessary for graduation, thus my confidence in math was low.

As fresh student with blossoming interests, I chose a major that could be relatively open-ended; I decided on Philosophy. Remembering that the law and legal process was largely responsible for many negative impacts to my upbringing, I was interested in Law School, which Philosophy complemented ideally. Philosophy, I learned, is also one of the most common majors for people that get accepted into medical school, which I was interested in and had more confidence with since science was always my strongest subject. However I was leaning more towards Law School.

On Thanksgiving of 2014, I left dinner to snag a 50″ LED television (Emerson) from Wal-mart for $200. The TV was not actually given on the day, they accepted payment and offered a receipt usable for pickup “sometime before Christmas Eve”. I waited and eagerly picked it up and brought it home to the room I was now renting from a nice Vietnamese family in Simi Valley for $550 a month (utilities included). I was astonished when I turned the TV on. This cheaply manufactured, throw-away unit, which could best be described as “defective” had a bright gash behind the upper frame of the picture. I called Wal-Mart, full-Karen furious, about the huge disappointment they provided. This is where some legal instinct comes into play.

First they told me they would replace the tv with an identical model (assuming they weren’t all defective) when one became available. They stopped making this exact unit (for good reason), and could only offer a replacement if someone else who bought the Black Friday deal screen returned theirs. I called once a week for three weeks, and after the new year had passed, they started keeping me on hold when I asked to speak to a manager. This was a sorry attempt to brush me off. “They couldn’t dodge all their calls” I thought, so with my iPhone 5, I called them from 10 different lines, continuously, conferencing each old one before making a new call, and in the jumbled “conference” of asynchronous rings, I could hear someone starting to answer each call one-by-one, hanging up once all they heard was ringer pandemonium. At this point, I just waited, having already asked to speak to the manager by name. Now as she answered the final ring, I politely asked “is [insert name of manager here] available now?”. She replied “just a moment”. In under two minutes I was on the phone with the acting manager and haggled with him over the disappointment I faced after leaving the quality time with my family over Thanksgiving that I would never get back, for a bunk Television set. He would not offer me a fair deal, only inadequate substitutes that either weren’t 50″ or weren’t LED. While browsing the Wal-Mart TV selection online, I gave a sigh of surrender. “How about this model [insert model number here], its a 32-inch” I said to him. “That one?” he said with so much excitement in his voice, “let me check if we have it in stock right now” he said. “Yes we can trade you that model for yours”, which set me up perfectly for my logical persuasion, “now that 32″ tv cost $120 more than the $200 I paid for the Emerson, if you can offer me a television that cost more than what I initially paid, then you can offer me a 50″ LED television whether it cost more than what I paid or not”. His pause screamed defeat, “just a second”, he said. This pursuit awarded me a brand new, 50″ LED Vizio Smart TV (marked at $550) for no additional cost. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome, I had shown myself, not for the first time, that I have a knack for using logical reasoning to rule in my favor.

The next legal experience functioned as a tilt to my career path. I was taking Intermediate Algebra for the second time. I withdrew from my first semester of the class, finding out later that the instructor was among just 5% of faculty at Moorpark college what was ranked as red-level bad, which gave some solace as to why I may have struggled so far as to drop. This new professor was brilliant. She excited the class with her backstory as a former attorney who became an engineer for U.S. Military fighter jets, and was with us at that time, operating as a math professor. Her curriculum was meticulously curated. However her strict attendance policy spelled trouble for a strong-willed freshman such as myself.

No more than 3 absences were allowed throughout the course of the semester. If you were not in your seat, when the bell rang, you gained half an absence on her record. I see now, by many aspects of the common student in a remedial math course, that this policy was most often necessary, especially with respect to the work she put into the course. However I was not one of those majority students and despite having half an absence remaining in my stores, I debated whether or not to attend as I was grossly ill – phlegmy, sneezy, sniffly, and coughing. I made it to my seat, 90 seconds late, being spoken to outside after the opening exercises ended, and being told that I was dropped from the class on account of the attendance policy. I pleaded for an overturn but was denied by her.

I took this to the dean of math, followed by the dean of student affairs. After weeks of working on this, the only logical settlement that would have worked for me was the ability to take the final and test out of the course. Although this was not granted, one ramification of my grievance included an addition to her syllabus in the form of a short paragraph, which for a professor as concise as her, may as well have been a whole page.

My understanding of politics were also stimulated by this experience. I pondered the status of this professor, how she had tenure, an undoubtedly stellar reputation, all supplemented by an impressive success rate that she equipped her students with. The Dean of math seemed threatened by her, as he was newer to the department, and understood the pull that she likely had in the department.

I took the same course that next Fall, with the same professor. She tried to have me removed. I was called into a meeting with the dean. He tried to sway me, after I made my case, which was that this was my last chance to take this course at this school. There is a 3 strike rule before you must take the course at another campus which would not have been ideal. I understood her teaching style, I understood her rules more than any student in that course, and I am not going to risk being taught by a new instructor that may not be adequate for my success. Despite this, he passed it off as unimportant, implying that I had no choice in the matter and needed to choose a new class to enroll in (he began to pull up some options on the computer). Being mindful that I may have more rights than he was leading me to believe, I asked “are you allowed to unenroll me from a class that I am eligible to be in?”, the look on his face was all I needed to see before quickly informing him that I have other classes to tend to and walking out.

In the end, we had one more meeting where the instructor expressed why she felt more comfortable with me enrolling with some other professor, I assured her she had nothing to worry about, and we proceeded to have a wonderful semester, every day of which I was sitting in the front row, early, participating at every appropriate moment. I passed with a solid A.

I learned that although I was primed with the abilities to become an outstanding attorney, I felt myself too drained by the chase of a win. Although it is good in the moment, I intuited that I would grow tired and ultimately unfulfilled by the constant game of cat and mouse. What would it be for? Money. What is money? One of the largest factors in all that I hoped to gain from life. I knew I was not going to want to do that kind of thing for 2000 hours a year and so on to medicine I went.

I was able to hit the ground running with medicine. My mom was a Registered Nurse and her scientific mind was no doubt a constant spirit in my life since conception. I had always scored the absolute highest in the sciences. I enjoyed the subject of science and witnessing the truths and effects of it. My girlfriend was a Pre-Med Biology student at UCLA! So much was in my favor in taking on this new career path.

I started was able to complete 3 out of the 12 prerequisites for medical school at Moorpark, followed by 2 more at the UCLA. I understood the rigor and sacrifices that had to be made to have the type of medical career I was interested in. Thinking of how it would all play out, I crunched the numbers. It turned out that for my specific situation (since I would have to pay for medical school, room/board myself), both my quality of life AND bank statement would be better off if I could complete a nursing program in 1 year, have that income while studying for the MCAT (and finishing the prerequisites for it), and working through year-1 & year-2 summers of Medical school. This approach would only add ONE year to my overall plan and provide years of stability and financial freedom, while also decreasing my debt by the start of a residency.

I substituted some (not all) of my pre-medical coursework with pre-ABSN coursework. That’s “Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing”. I found a program that requires a prior bachelor’s degree in any subject, granted that you pass all prerequisites, and provides a full time course of study that earns the degree in just one year. I aced most of the prerequisites and scored in the 92nd percentile on the TEAS exam (similar to the MCAT but for nursing schools), and the 99th percentile in the math section, and I only studied a couple hours the night before. Shooting for the moon really does allow you to fall among the stars, and my associations didn’t hurt either (RN-mom, Pre-med-GF).

I had been accepted in my ABSN program of choice (the only one I applied to and one of the few that even exist), yet something was pulling me back. I remembered my experience as an intern at the world renowned UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Although it was considered among the best (top 4 in the nation), I still found many downsides to working there. The whole hospital culture can be so cut-throat, but more than that, the environment is often catty and emotionally immature. The egos that come with some people in the business of saving lives can be unbearable. I know this sort of thing can happen anywhere, but what really made me rethink was when a particularly snide nurse crossed the line.

She demonstrated the “nurses who eat their young” attitude as she insulted, berated, and belittled non-paid interns. Her requests were made with disrespect and when she couldn’t scare me into a corner, she grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her, as a means to really get in my face and tell me what she thinks. The second she saw my face, a light-bulb went on in her head, and she released me before anyone could reasonably say for certain what she had done.

She literally started calling me a “crazy”, a “nutty”, as I tried to tell others what had happened. In the end, the administration brought me in and took her side. I informed them of my disappointment as this lack of just action reflected my mother’s experience with hospital administration, that deeply affected more than just my immediate family, and that they should find out how they can better judge a person’s character, lest they cause undue harm to others.

I was stuck in this decision; for the most part I was still happy with it, there are worse trajectories to be on after all. Two months in to my final term at UCLA, with an ABSN program acceptance set to take effect in the same month as my graduation ceremony, something urged my to check again for any other options. I found the program that I am currently in, an accelerated Bachelor of Science program that could be completed in just one year, at Oregon State University, in Computer Science. The only prerequisites were to have a bachelor’s degree in another subject, and have passed a course in Calculus. I would have both! It must have been written in the stars, I was still preparing for medical school when I took a year of Calculus at UCLA! This new opportunity thrilled me as I recalled my year living with 11 others in Westwood, 5 of which were UCLA CS majors! One of them was a pre-med student that I spent minimal time interacting with as he was always out/commuting to his physician shadowing (which I had also done at a point in my career), he was not really a fun guy to be around, although perfectly kind, this proved my point to myself even more! The five CS guys were so fun to be around and were always having fun building their projects and working on entrepreneurial endeavors. While every industry has those with bad attitudes, it seemed much less prevalent in software. Every CS major I could remember (we had lots of parties with software engineers in attendance), they were always bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and generally excited about life and their careers! I did not get that from all of the pre-medical characters I had encountered.

I called the program advisor at OSU from Spain (oh yeah I was studying abroad at the time) and the conversation seemed very promising that I could secure a spot starting in the summer term as they had just acquired enough staff and resources to accept an unprecedented number of students. I applied and got the good news just one month later! Everyone back home thought they had finally grasped an accurate expectation of me but I keep them on their toes.

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