From Zero to Hero-A Story about Perseverance

Dr. Priscilla Kelly

From a very early age, Pricilla Kelly knew she wanted to be a physicist. She was fascinated and intrigued by the complex world of science. 

First-generation college graduate, Pricilla Kelly shares her journey with us in hopes her story can inspire others. Growing up, college was never a possibility for her. Both of her parents didn’t finish high school, and none of her extended family members ever attended college. Growing up in a financially stressed area in San Diego, California Pricilla often encountered many barriers to academic success. “The schools I attended growing up lacked resources, therefore I was always behind,” Pricilla remembered.

Being academically challenged, and having parents not familiar with the American education system, Pricilla never thought college was an option for her, let alone that she would succeed in a rigorous field such as physics. While her high school peers were submitting college applications and studying for the GRE, Pricilla was battling health problems of her own. Preoccupied with her health concerns, Pricilla missed all college application deadlines.

The fear of an uncertain future combined with the harsh realities low-income minorities often experience, made Pricilla decided to rise above what she had been exposed to all her life. “I knew if I wanted to make some sort of security for myself I had to go to college and into a STEM field,” expressed Pricilla.  

After deciding to attend college, Pricilla enrolled in a community college where she worked diligently to catch up academically and prepare to transfer to pursue a bachelor in physics at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). With a determined attitude, she was able to rapidly complete the requirements necessary to transfer to UCSD.  

UCSD provided an ideal environment for her academic and personal development. At UCSD she continued to sharpen her study habits and adhere to a demanding disciplined routine. Pricilla’s hard work, sleepless nights, sacrifices, and struggles ultimately paid off. In 2013 she graduated from UCSD and was awarded Cum Laude of her class.  This significant milestone set the direction for her next academic move as she prepared herself for her next challenge. 

After successfully completing an undergraduate degree, Pricilla went on to pursue her Ph.D. in computational science at San Diego State University (SDSU). While at SDSU, Pricilla continued her academic success. Her advisors and mentors soon took notice of her work and were favorably impressed. As she grew more knowledgeable in her area of study, new opportunities arose that led to a leadership role in the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), a professional society that promotes research that leads to effective new mathematical and computational methods.

While serving as president of the local SIAM student chapter Pricilla was invited to participate in the Sustainable Horizons Institute Broader Engagement Program which develops women in the sciences. “Attending the Broader Engagement Program was a rewarding experience, as it provided me the opportunity to branch out and explore computational science more in-depth.” Pricilla specified. Dr. Leung, President, and Founder of Sustainable Horizons Institute was matched with Pricilla at the Broader Engagement program and served as Pricilla’s mentor.  Dr. Leung attended Pricilla’s defense and was extremely impressed by her work. One of her dissertation committee members commented on Priscilla’s prolific research productivity shown by the more than 10 publications she authored during graduate school.

Pricilla continues to experience success in her professional life. Upon finishing her Ph.D., Pricilla was offered a job as a data scientist developer and programmer with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. She is looking forward to starting work in the fall. 

Pricilla’s story is one of dedication, hard work, and perseverance. In spite of the psychosocial and economic challenges she had to face, Pricilla was able to succeed and accomplish her academic goals. Today, Pricilla is thankful for the relentless work ethic she maintained throughout her journey as it has helped shape the professional she is today. 

When not working in the lab, Pricilla dedicates herself to mentoring and encouraging minority youth in science.