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Building off her Mathematics degree at UCSB, Dominique aims to pursue mathematics in graduate school.

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"Everything happens for a reason. You may receive grades and rejections you don’t think you deserve, but that happens to everyone at certain times and to different extents. The important thing is to look at the big picture and understand that other doors will open up for you and may be the ones you least expect."

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Dominique Vaca
Class of 2017


I and a few of my fellow project members at JPL.


My career roadmap has been somewhat defined.

My interest in a STEM career originated when I was a little girl, who loved to play with legos. My closet was cluttered with legos ranging from Spongebob’s The Krusty Krab to the fictitious aircrafts of Star Wars. Building these creations inspired me to become an engineer.

Once I transferred to AOC, I took my first physics course at COC, but much to my surprise, I did not thrive in the course as much as I had hoped. I absolutely loved the mathematical component of physics, but knew this subject would not be my defining career.

The applications I found in physics inspired me to instead focus my education on a subject that I always understood, one that I always thrived in—the universal language of mathematics.

Once I graduated from AOC, I decided to stay at COC for one more year, which actually turned into two. Though this extension was not planned, I am grateful for this extra time that allowed me to gain more experience in the mathematics field.

I participated in a mathematics Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at CSUN, which taught me the basics of a few machine learning algorithms and introduced me to the world of data science. The following year, I became an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the machine learning department.

These experiences helped me solidify my career aspirations as I now aspire to become a mathematician, specifically in the field of space exploration. Without the two additional years at COC, I would not have had the opportunity to learn of the diverse applications of math.

Though my passion for lego building was built on the fundamentals of engineering, I chose to follow an indirect path that aligns more with my abilities.

Shortly after, I began studying Applied Mathematics at UC Santa Barbara with a minor in Educational Studies.



Here are my extracurriculars relevant to this pathway


  • Participated in the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges rigorous mathematics exams

  • Became a Math Club member at COC

  • Talked with mathematics professors about their careers / stories


  • Math club president at COC

  • Participant in the Research Experiences in Community Colleges (RE-C^2) data science pilot program at CSUN

  • Intern at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  • Predoctoral scholar for the Math Alliance—a community of faculty and students who inspire underrepresented students to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics

  • Mathematics tutor of elementary / middle / high school, and community college students


What I'm currently doing/hope to do

Once I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Spring 2021 with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and a minor in Educational Studies, I decided to join the workforce in the software field. I am currently working as a Quality Assurance Automation Engineer for Yardi Systems, a property management company providing software solutions to global real-estate markets. My main priorities are to test, troubleshoot, and resolve software issues by collaborating with the rest of the programming team to ensure that all releases/plug-ins are working effectively and efficiently (using Python and SQL). In the future, I would like to pursue a graduate degree in a related field that will help me branch out and discover other creative disciplines, whose foundations rely on mathematics. During these uncertain times, my educational trajectory is somewhat uncertain as well, but I remain open to any new and exciting adventures that come my way!


How to maximize my time in high school?

  • Advice #1: Connect with AOC and COC mathematics professors to discuss their stories and how they arrived at where they are today. Knowing their day-to-day routines will give you some insight on what it’s like to be in their shoes and can inspire you to pursue a similar path or maybe create your own!

  • Advice #2: Try to gain internships and/or research experience in mathematics, data science / machine learning. Since these are trending topics, gaining experience in these industries, even to some capacity, can distinguish you from other students.

  • Advice #3: If college applications are stressing you out at AOC, consider becoming a transfer student! Transferring may not seem ideal, but it may very well help you as you transition to a university setting. It grants you more time to get a job and gain invaluable research / internship experience that can enable you to discover which field you want to pursue.

  • Advice #4: Give yourself a break. In many different contexts, taking a break allows you to recharge and to better focus on your assignments. Managing both AOC and COC classes can be demanding, stressful and sometimes frustrating, but taking care of yourself is critical to thriving as an AOC student.

  • Advice #5: Everything happens for a reason. You may receive grades and rejections you don’t think you deserve, but that happens to everyone at certain times and to different extents. The important thing is to look at the big picture and understand that other doors will open up for you and may be the ones you least expect.

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