Studying sciences at Okanagan College has paid off for Jacqueline Barnett (left) and Stacey Sakakibara. (Okanagan College photos)

Studying sciences at Okanagan College has paid off for Jacqueline Barnett (left) and Stacey Sakakibara. (Okanagan College photos)

Starting in science boosts Okanagan College alumni to success

Jacqueline Barnett and Stacey Sakakibara enjoying successes of studying science programs

As the world continues to navigate life in a pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that science matters.

High school students approaching graduation and pondering their future, may be considering a career in this field, but knowing what area to specialize in can be a challenging decision with so many options.

Okanagan College alumna Jacqueline Barnett started her journey in sciences through the college’s Associate of Science degree program. She’s now chasing her dreams, following not just her head and her heart, but also her gut, as she works on a Ph.D. thesis with real-world application in the world seeking to know more about the gut-brain connection.

“Beginning at the college allowed me to remain close to home, which was essential to me as I wanted to be close to my aging parents. More importantly, my time at OC allowed me to experience various scientific fields – I was able to determine which disciplines I enjoyed,” says Barnett, who started at the Vernon campus.

Okanagan College makes it an easy transition into post-secondary by allowing students the option to start the first two years of their Science degree at an OC campus before transferring to a larger lniversity. This also allows students to really delve into the sciences before declaring a major.

“Everyone always talks about the benefits of the small class sizes at OC, but it is such an incredible opportunity. I was able to form strong bonds with my peers and make friendships that persist to this day. I also got to know my teachers and learn more about their career paths which opened my eyes to many new opportunities within science I had never heard of or considered,” says Barnett.

“The skills and opportunities that I learned at OC gave me such an advantage in both my undergraduate and graduate student careers. I was able to walk into a research lab at UBC Okanagan (UBCO) after transferring from OC and say, yes, I’ve used a single-channel pipette before, and yes, I’ve used Qiagen kits before. That’s practically unheard of at the second-year level. That helped me get into a research lab as soon as I arrived at UBCO – which led to my receiving a summer research award, completing an undergraduate honours thesis and pursuing graduate studies.”

Barnett is now a Ph.D. Candidate at UBCO.

“My thesis examines the effects of the herbicide glyphosate on the gut microbiome and its impact on behaviour through the gut-brain-microbiome axis. I took all of those passions and interests I discovered at Okanagan College and tied them together in this fantastic research project,” says Barnett. “I can unequivocally state that I would not be where I am today if not for my time at the College.”

Barnett credits the fantastic instructors and professors that she has had over the years for her passion to continue learning.

“I hope to become a college instructor. I love the small class sizes and the ability to get to know each of my students and help them see their potential and find their place in science.”

Barnett received the Irving K. Barber Transfer Scholarship during her time at OC which helped make her transition to UBCO possible. The $5,000 award from the Irving K. Barber Scholarship Society is awarded annually to undergraduate students who have completed at least one year at a public post-secondary institution in B.C. and are transferring to another degree-granting institution to complete their studies.

“That was the first scholarship that I received that I was encouraged to apply for by one of my many influential instructors, Stacey Sakakibara,” says Barnett.

Sakakibara is a science professor and the chair of Biology at OC, and is also an alumna of the science program herself.

“I chose OC because it allowed me to stay local and transition to the rigor of first year science courses in a smaller setting. I did not know at the time that the decision would have such an impact on my career,” says Sakakibara.

“Taking first-year science in Vernon challenged me to learn to critically think in a supportive environment that set me up for success when I transferred to university. While biology was the course that made me want to delve deeper and learn more, my calculus and physics courses really began to train me to think analytically and creatively. These were all benefits that came from starting at OC.”

Sakakibara went on to study a Masters of Science in Genetics at UBC Vancouver before becoming a research assistant at OUC and eventually becoming an instructor at the college.

“I had always been interested in teaching but I thought I would end up as an elementary school teacher. At the end of my first year, I had had such a profound experience that I remember thinking how amazing it would be to teach at the college level, but I never dreamed that I would ever return in that capacity. It wasn’t until I had finished my MSc and was working in research that I started to realize that a career in teaching at that level was possible.”

For students considering a path within the sciences, Sakakibara will be hosting an Info Session on May 20 to answer questions about the Associate of Science degree program at OC. For more information on the session and the Associate of Science degree program, visit okangan.bc.ca/science.

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