Zhao worked hard in high school and ended up being ranked among the top students in her province. Her college placement scores opened the door to her dream when she was admitted into Cal State San Marcos.
At the age of 20, she left home, said her goodbyes to her parents and ventured by herself to America.
Zhao settled into her life in California and started her classes. As the quarter continued on, she quickly found out how ill-prepared she was for the fast-paced challenge of college in America. Although she had learned English in China, she found her language skills inadequate for the rigor of her classes.
Zhao did not understand what her professors were teaching, and was reluctant to ask them for help. Unfortunately, her grades slipped and she ran out money. Zhao was unable to get a job with her student visa, and for the first time, she started to panic. Her dream was crumbling as time went on.
Alone, scared and out of money, she dropped out of school.
“I felt incredible pressure. I was a top student in China who was failing out of my classes in America,” Zhao says. “I did not understand the language and I was scared to ask the professors for help.”
Feeling like a failure with no one to turn to, she suffered alone.
“I did not tell my parents when this was going on,” Zhao says. “I did not want them to worry about me or truly know how much I was struggling out here.”
She did not want to quit. After researching her options, Zhao discovered that community college was a way to save on expenses. Although she initially thought this move was a failure, it ended up being the blessing that helped get her dream back on track. She started her next chapter at Mt. San Antonio College.
At Mt. SAC, things began to get better for Zhao.
“Professors really helped me get focused on my academics,” Zhao says. “They gave me advice that I still remembered to day.”
She tried her hand as an economics student since she likes numbers, but changed to mathematics because of a professor’s guidance.
“At Mt. SAC, my physics professor pulled me aside and asked me about my major,” she says. “He advised me that I go into a science because he could tell that I was doing well. I decided to become a math student and it has really paid off.”
Upon completing her academic requirements at Mt. SAC, Zhao decided to attend Cal Poly Pomona.
“At first I was hesitant about attending Cal Poly Pomona,” Zhao says. “But I am glad that I chose to attend after all. The professors really care about you. The faculty and staff are great, and they have given me precious advice that has helped in my career at Cal Poly Pomona.”
Zhao is now a student assistant for the College of Science in the Dean’s Office, which allows her to be financially independent. Based her academic achievement in the classroom, she has also earned two scholarships through the math department.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to have a job on campus,” Zhao. “My first job was from Jenny Switkes, associate chair from the math department. She had me grade assignments for Dr. Brian Jersky, dean for the College of Science. After that quarter, Dr. Kristine Hartney, associate dean for the College of Science, needed someone for the annual report and Dr. Jersky recommended me. I have been with the dean’s office ever since.”
“Zhao is the whole package for a successful student. She has natural gift for math, as well as a tenacious spirit that is able to work through adversity and succeed,” Jersky says. “She truly represents the best and brightest at Cal Poly Pomona.”
Upon her completion at Cal Poly Pomona, Zhao has plans to attend graduate school.
“I want to apply to UCLA or UC Berkeley,” she says. “Before I attend grad school though, I want to get some on the job experience and save up money for grad school.”
Zhao is interested in pursuing a career as an actuary. “An actuary analyzes the financial risk of clients in regard to insurance and pension plans,” explains Zhao. “I enjoy the thought of using my math skills to strategize for customers.”
Zhao has high aspirations, but if anybody can achieve them, it is her.
“I am tougher than who I used to be,” she says. “I have come this far on my own; why not continue to go further?”