A mentor at Highline Community College changed the trajectory of Asha Isaac’s life. “I was a nursing major but wasn’t enjoying what I was doing,” said Isaac. Her mentor at Highline also served as the head of the computer science department. She invited Isaac to a meeting of the campus cybersecurity club. That invitation eventually led to classes in web development and an eventual transfer into UW Tacoma’s Institute of Technology.
Isaac graduates in June with a degree in information technology and systems. She’ll put her education to work immediately with the information security department at Costco’s Issaquah headquarters. Issac may be leaving UW Tacoma but her time on campus is far from over. “I’m looking for a way to be involved after I graduate,” she said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to all the people who helped me to pass it on to others.”
Isaac has already started the process. While a student she developed Young STEM Minds, a club devoted to helping first-generation students interested in STEM. Isaac’s decision to create a club is a byproduct of her experience. “The problem I faced as a woman and as a woman of color was the lack of exposure to these fields at a young age,” she said. “I didn’t see people that looked like me in these fields so I never thought about them as options.”
Education has never been just an option for Isaac. “My parents are very pro education,” she said. “My mom didn’t like us missing even one day of school.” Isaac’s parents didn’t have the opportunity to attend college and worked to ensure their children would have it differently.
Isaac’s father came to the United States from Kenya in 1996. Over the next decade he slowly brought the rest of the family to live with him in Maine. Asha came to the U.S. in 2008. The family moved to Seattle a year later. “My dad wanted to move someplace where it didn’t snow as much, so we came to Washington,” said Isaac.
Asha won’t be the first in her family to graduate from college—nor is she the second or third. When she walks across the Commencement stage, Asha Isaac will be the seventh person in her family to earn a degree. Six of her siblings have already achieved this honor. Isaac has 16 brothers and sisters; some of them are still too young to pursue higher education. When asked about what it was like growing up in such a large family, Isaac said, "I feel like it was good practice learning how to interact with so many different personalities.”
In April, Isaac and seven other UW Tacoma students were inducted into this year’s Husky 100, a university-wide honor that recognizes students who are making the most of their experience at UW. Isaac is grateful for the honor, however neither graduation nor inclusion in the Husky 100 are end goals. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “I had the benefit of a mentor and I want to be that for someone else.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org