I grew up in a small town near Olympia, Washington. Home was always a violent and unpredictable place, so school became my safe haven and I excelled in my studies. I participated in student government, wrote for the school newspaper, participated in the speech and debate club, and played all kinds of sports. I also had the unique opportunity of sailing around the world in a small boat, with my father. He was not a rich man, but he was creative.
For three to five months a year, for seven years, we sailed to exotic ports around the world. At the end of each summer, we anchored the boat in a foreign harbor, flew home on military planes, and I returned to school. The following year, we picked up the boat and continued our journey around the world. Over the years, we sailed to Hawaii, Tahiti, American Samoa, Australia, Israel, Algeria and Gibraltar. Sailing the world inspired me to become an ocean scientist like Jacques Cousteau.
Even though I wanted to be a scientist, or possibly a medical doctor, I started at the University of Washington (www.washington.edu) in Seattle and decided to major in Philosophy. I discovered Philosophy in the dark and dusty stacks of the library, where I started reading Plato and Socrates. When I began college I asked my professors how I could balance my love of philosophy with my passion for science. They recommended that I pursue my zest for philosophy while taking the minimum pre-medical school requirements. They said that once I started studying science at advanced levels, it would be hard to find time for anything else.
When I entered graduate school in biology at the University of California, San Diego (www.ucsd.edu) I found out how right those professors had been. Graduate school was rigorous and demanding. It was also the first place I encountered discrimination for being a disabled Native American woman. Because of this discrimination, I began to doubt my abilities and myself. I felt insecure and unintelligent. Feelings of self- doubt were complicated by increasing feelings of depression, a dark and ever-present stranger that walked with me most of the time. Ironically, the many challenges of racism, sexual harassment, disability discrimination and mental illness (bipolar disorder), helped me to cultivate a sense of strength and self- worth.
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