- Interviewed by Foxy Robinson
Just one more chapter. Growing up in Fremont, California, friendly summers fell quiet to Carole Hom’s interest in reading books. She was a bookworm. “I would be reading all day if I had the choice,” she remembers. Her parents would yell at her, urging her to take in the fresh summer air, play outside, and get some exercise.
Making her family proud
Hom’s family came to California during the early 1900s, finding new homes in Watsonville, California, south of Santa Cruz. Her grandparents migrated from the Sze Yup, also known as Siyi, a region near the Pearl River Delta in China. Her parents grew up in the lush agricultural area filled with strawberries, lettuce, and apples. Hom’s parents knew each other as childhood friends, reuniting when her father returned from World War II. “I think my parents imbued me with a strong work ethic and they expected me to behave in a way that would make them proud,” preparing her to thrive in school on her own path.
Her extended family also encouraged her to do well in school. One uncle comes to mind. He would pay Hom and her cousins a dollar for each “A” they got in school. “My freshman year of high school, I was taking nine classes in the fall. I got nine ‘A’s,’ and he sort of looked at me as I held my hand out. I think after that he didn’t do that anymore,” she says thinking back.
After high school, she decided to attend the University of the Pacific. “The faculty encouraged us to stretch ourselves out.” Hom stretched out and spent her freshman year in a class at a marine biology lab, where she was able to start her own mini-research project. “I described how an intertidal animal, called an anthropod, ate. It built tubes out of sand, like sandcastles, perched on the edge, and grabbed particles as they moved past it.” Her experience with tiny marine life, smaller than half an ear-wig, connected her with her major and the start of her career.
Building her own major
Hom met one marine biology professor who noticed her interests in both marine biology and math. Her professor said, “You should study mathematical ecology!” The two worked together to craft a schedule of classes Hom needed to take, giving her the freedom to make up her own major based on her interests.
Her post-doc position led her to join the UC Davis community. After that, she taught in the math department as a lecturer for ten years. Since then, she has been coordinating the UC Davis Post-baccalaureate Research and Education Program (PREP), helping undergraduates, post-bacs, and graduate students figure out how to do research. The goal is to give them skills and a foundation for their own research sandcastles that will last them a lifetime of learning.
Twenty years later, Hom has stayed at UC Davis. “I like the institution; the faculty really care about teaching and take pride in it. The students are awesome. They work hard, but they also play hard, and I think the campus fosters that.”
Don’t be afraid to knock
For the first-generation students paving the way for their family’s education, Hom says, “I’m happy to let them know that I’m here,” as a resource and someone who will answer the door when you knock on it. Her advice, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Faculty are there for you, who do this because we like to. We generally eat breakfast, so we don’t eat students who knock on the door.” Come visit!