Wapato student finds her passion
Charlene Luna has big plans for her future. When she graduates from Wapato High School in June 2022, she’ll also already have earned her associate degree from Yakima Valley College — setting her up to complete a bachelor’s degree before turning 21.
“I’m ready to pursue a career in chemical engineering,” says Luna. “It’s the act of creating something like medicine, that the world really needs, that interests me. That process of creation, the experimenting and discovering whether or not it works, is what fascinates me.”
In the past, turning that dream into reality would be an unlikely achievement for a student such as Luna, who grew up in a low-income household and whose parents didn’t attend college themselves.
But Luna’s dream found support through a pair of programs at YVC designed to support the educational aspirations and economic mobility of historically disadvantaged students.
In 2019, Luna joined YVC’s Upward Bound program, which supports the post-secondary goals of students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds or who would be the first in their immediate family to complete a four-year college degree.
The year-round program provides academic supports such as tutoring, advising, SAT/ACT test preparation, career exploration opportunities, college tours and more. A six-week summer residential program at YVC also gives Upward Bound students an opportunity to experience the academic and social aspects of being on a college campus.
Luna said having access to tutoring services on-demand at any time through Upward Bound is an important contributor to her academic success. In addition, Upward Bound has helped her connect with staff and faculty at four-year institutions where she’s applying.
“That’s been really helpful so I can learn more about their programs and get advice about what I should do prior to applying so that I’m a better candidate,” Luna said.
When Luna starts her bachelor’s degree next fall, she’ll also enter with two years of college credit under her belt — credits she was able to earn tuition-free at YVC through Running Start.
Luna first became aware of the Washington state program from her sister. Knowing that Running Start would enable her to earn college credit while still in high school, Luna took advantage of the opportunity to both reduce the cost of earning her degree and enter the workforce more quickly.
At first, Luna said she focused on taking YVC courses that also fulfilled high school graduation requirements.
“Then I started to look into what I really wanted to do for my degree and career,” Luna said. “Running Start was a great way to get started on my prerequisites for the courses I’ll need to take for a degree in chemical engineering.”
Luna’s learning opportunities have even extended beyond the classroom. She was one of more than 30 YVC students who gained hands-on research experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields during the summer of 2021.
Luna served as a research intern for a U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) research project that’s studying the mass trapping of earwigs in stone fruit orchards and the potential to move captured earwigs into apple and pear orchards where they are beneficial because they prey on other common pests such as aphids and pear psylla.
Over the course of the summer, Luna helped check earwig traps attached to the trunks of hundreds of fruit trees in local orchards as well as analyze data for the project. In the process she gained invaluable hands-on experience in lab and field work, as well as more general experience solving unexpected problems, analyzing data and working in a team environment.
“I feel like it’s a really good learning experience that I’m going to be able to use later on,” said Luna. “We get to analyze the data we’ve been out here collecting ourselves and see what that information actually means.”