Kaithren Garcia
Kaithren Garcia, Class of 2022

For Waubonsee student Kaithren Garcia, a first-generation Latina, of Aurora, succeeding academically did not always come easy. Yet, as Garcia prepares to walk across the stage at Waubonsee’s 54th commencement ceremony on May 14 to receive her Associate in Science in Biology, she is energized and excited for what lies ahead. 

“I am at the peak of who I am as a person because of Waubonsee,” said Garcia. 

Recently, Garcia was selected to participate in a competitive 10-week summer research bootcamp program called Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students (PRECS). PRECS is offered through a partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Parkland College. Only ten community college students who apply nationally are selected to participate in the unique research immersion program.  

After graduation and under the direction of a post-doctoral fellow at UIUC, Garcia will study the proximate and ultimate causes of individual differences in threespined stickleback fish. During this time, she will conduct ongoing projects to investigate transgenerational plasticity, brain gene expression correlations, and the causes of behaviors of fish populations.

“Receiving this opportunity is amazing because I never thought I would go to college,” said Garcia. The East Aurora High School graduate faced challenges assimilating to American culture after her family moved to Mexico for several years and later returned to the Aurora area. 

In 2017, Garcia applied to Waubonsee Community College not knowing if she would succeed. Without the guidance from a close relative who attended college before her, Garcia lacked a role model to guide her on how to be successful in college. Getting her first, “D” in Chemistry was the first disappointment at Waubonsee. After that, Garcia felt she had plenty of other reasons to stop attending. “I took classes full-time, worked part-time, and noticed that work and school had become too overwhelming.” A few months after dropping classes, Garcia would also face the most significant obstacle that would force her to question if she would be able to return to school.

 In 2019, Garcia received her first Lupus diagnosis, followed by a string of other complicated diagnoses, including a blood clotting disorder, Pancreatitis, and Diabetes. The following year would only prove to be more difficult. In 2020, Garcia was rushed to receive emergency brain surgery due to bleeding in her head. 

Faced with severe malnourishment, viral infections, and other health complications, Garcia promised herself that she would return to the classroom. “I wanted to come back to school to redeem myself,” Garcia said. 

In 2021, Garcia did just that; she returned to Waubonsee. She enrolled in summer online courses. To her surprise, her professors in the Biology Program at Waubonsee recognized her and welcomed her back with compassion and understanding. “I got involved with the TRIO/Student Support Services (SSS) Program, and that’s where I learned about the PRECS Program.”

The TRIO/SSS Program at Waubonsee provides intensive academic, career, financial literacy, tutoring, and motivates students to complete their degree. With the help Garcia received from the TRIO/SSS Program, she improved her grades and gained the confidence to study biology. “I was given a second chance at Waubonsee.”

Waubonsee’s Biology Program professors offered Garcia compassion, understanding, and support she didn’t think was possible. “They helped me gain my critical thinking skills and provided meaningful lessons to understand concepts to apply what I am working on.” Determined, Garcia retook the Chemistry class she had almost failed several years before and earned a promising “B.”

“A lot of students have a fear of rejection, especially me,” said Garcia. “I used to let that take over me, but my experience with all my health challenges has taught me to take advantage of second chances and not to waste another opportunity.” 

Garcia plans to continue her studies by completing a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience focusing on behavioral and cognitive aspects at Loyola University.

She also shares her wisdom with her younger sibling and niece and nephews. Between managing her own work, school, and health, Garcia encourages younger family members to pursue higher education. She constantly drills the idea into their heads that higher education is extremely rewarding, especially when pursuing your dream career. Garcia hopes to inspire women who want to be in a STEM career.

With courses for majors and non-majors, Waubonsee’s biology curriculum is built for students who see a future in science and a career discovering its mysteries. Waubonsee offers an Associate in Science in Biology and an Associate in Science in Clinical Lab Science. To learn more, visit waubonsee.edu/biology

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