Ashley Kim, who graduated from Foothill High School in 2014, has a scientific mind.
She earned a degree in animal biology from the University of California at Davis in 2018 and is now a lab technician at UC Berkeley, doing research on agricultural pest management. She is also applying to Ph.D. programs in ecology and evolutionary biology.
But Kim emphasizes that her exciting academic career was launched at Las Positas College, which she attended from 2014-16.
"I really appreciated the small class sizes because it gave me the opportunity to cultivate relationships with my professors," Kim said. "If I ever needed some extra help, I did not hesitate to visit them during office hours to ask questions and check on my progress in class."
She already knew in high school that she wanted to be a biology major and also that her grades were not competitive enough for admission to a University of California. She said she liked the idea of Las Positas College's Transfer Admission Guarantee, which assures acceptance into the UC system. Las Positas also has resources to help cover the cost of textbooks and supplies, she discovered.
Kim took advantage of the community college's programs and resources, including joining the LPC Biology Club. And she found the course work compared favorably to that in larger universities.
"In lab classes, I learned the most course material through a hands-on approach," Kim said. "For example, in general zoology, every four students were assigned to dissect a whole dogfish shark. Compared to universities, some students may not have the opportunity like dissections."
She noted that Las Positas lab classes were instrumental in preparing for her eventual transfer to UC Davis. Courses like cellular and molecular biology gave her the chance to perform experiments in cloning and polymerase chain reactions (PCR).
Also the support she received from her professors and peers assisted in her success. She performed research at the California Academy of Sciences, working with Dr. Terry Gosliner to identify and characterize five new nudibranch species from the Philippines using molecular and morphological data. The research was awarded Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016.
"I recommend attending LPC for the opportunities to really explore your career options," Kim said. "I know so many peers who have regretted their decision to attend a university that isn't a good fit or their major was something they were not passionate about."
At Davis, Kim conducted an independent research project investigating contradictory photoperiod and temperature conditions on diapause and how it affected the melanism on the wings of the white cabbage butterfly. Her thesis was on the value of software coding in ecology.
She also participated in research at UC Riverside studying hummingbird foraging behavior with residual defensive or pheromonal insect compounds on nectar resources and the ecological relationships of Formica ants and honeybees, with hummingbirds at an organismal and molecular level. The research was presented at the NSF and AAAS Emerging Researchers National Conference 2018 and won first place in the Ecology division.
Since graduating UC Davis, Kim has worked as a lab tech at UC Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management studying agricultural pest management. She also volunteers at Cal's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Essig Museum of Entomology performing tasks like preparing bird specimens, bird taxidermy and insect pinning.
She is also currently conducting research with Harvard Medical School's "Dr. Emorica Hill on the Women in Academic Medicine Study" to investigate career advancements and barriers that women in academic medicine have faced while earning their master's or doctorate degrees.
"Our research aims to identify barriers that interfere with the advancement of higher education for women and create solutions for allocating resources to certain areas," Kim said.
Kim is applying to Ph.D. programs in ecology and evolutionary biology with her sights set on Harvard University, Cornell University, UC Berkeley, Columbia University or University of Chicago. She ultimately eyes a career as a museum curator at a top institution.
But she remembers that Las Positas College gave her the foundation for her achievements.
"It was one of the best decisions I ever made because I would not have been able to get the same opportunities at a university," Kim said.
Las Positas College in Livermore has 8,000 students and provides university transfer classes, training classes for those in need or employment or career advancement, a first-time educational opportunity for many adults, enrichment classes for those seeking a broader perspective, and career and technical training for those entering the technical and paraprofessional workforce.