Chasing Her Dreams
UW Tacoma senior Angel Reddy's interest in science and travel opened doors for her both on and off campus.
UW Tacoma senior Angel Reddy graduates in just a few months. On Friday, June 9, 2023 Reddy will cross the Commencement stage at the Tacoma Dome to cheers from family and friends. That moment is rapidly approaching and with it, an awareness of its significance. “Right now, I’m thinking about my maternal grandmother,” said Reddy. “She died two weeks before I was born, and from what I’ve been told, she had a third-grade education.”
Reddy is Indo-Fijian. “My parents were both born in Fiji but are of Indian descent,” she said. In the 1880s the British Empire began a forty-year process of bringing people from India to Fiji to work sugar cane plantations as part of an indentured labor system. Indentured workers signed a five-year contract and were subject to brutal treatment and harsh living conditions. The system officially ended in 1920.
Reddy’s parents spent their early years living in Fiji, although they didn’t know each other. Reddy’s mother and father left the island at different times and wouldn’t meet until later. “By then, my mom’s family and my dad’s family had been talking a little bit,” said Angel Reddy. “They both knew they had some single, lonely children and they decided to get them together and see if they liked each other.”
They did. The couple eventually married and settled in Lakewood with their two children (Angel is the youngest; her older brother graduated from UW Tacoma in 2017). “My parents bought a 7-Eleven and sort of settled into a life,” said Reddy.
Owning a small business is hard. There are long hours and periods of financial instability. For Reddy and her parents, it also meant dealing with racism. “There were insults, often about how my parents didn’t belong in this country and that they should leave,” said Reddy. “I witnessed this quite a bit growing up. I look back on it now and I’m grateful that I got to see what my mom and dad went through. There’s a perspective and a respect that comes from knowing their experience.”
Reddy grew up in Lakewood and graduated from Harrison Preparatory School. She applied to and was accept at the University of Washington in Seattle. “I went there for a year,” said Reddy. “It was a very large campus that felt intimidating and scary. It was hard to make connections. “
Reddy decided she wanted a UW education, albeit in a different environment. “I transferred to UW Tacoma,” she said. “Honestly, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
The move south brought Reddy closer to her family. The change of scenery also came with smaller class sizes and a better sense of community. When it came to choosing a major, Reddy gravitated toward one area in particular. “I really like the way scientists are trained to think about issues,” she said. “Science is about making observations and developing a testable hypothesis.”
There are a lot of different avenues to pursue in the sciences. Fortunately, Reddy got some help narrowing things down. “I took a general chemistry course with Dr. [Joan] Bleecker and she was fantastic,” said Reddy. “She made chemistry very approachable and accessible to the point that I got excited about the topic and wanted to know more.”
Reddy ended up taking multiple chemistry and biology classes. “I also had an interest in doing research into human health,” she said. “I found that the biomed major was the best fit for students who wanted to contribute to ongoing research in the realm of improving human health.
During the last few years Reddy has taken what’s she learned in the classroom and applied it elsewhere. From June 2021 to June 2022 she worked as a research assistant at Community Healthcare. “I interviewed patients that had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and asked them about their experience within the healthcare system,” she said. “It was a lovely experience because I got a chance to get to know members of this community and better understand their lives.”
In the summer of 2022 Reddy served as an intern undergraduate research assistant with UW Medicine at the Parsek Lab. “This was my first time working in a research lab,” she said. “The pandemic really put a restraint on the skills I had but what I discovered is that my professors at UW Tacoma gave me the tools I needed to succeed in that environment.”
The lab Reddy interned in studies the bacteria pseudomonas aeruginosa. “This bacteria is one of the biggest sources of hospital-acquired infections,” she said. “I was the only undergraduate in the lab and it was intimidating but I came away from the experience feeling pretty good about my research.”
Back on campus Reddy is continuing to conduct research as part of Assistant Professor Sarah Alaei’s lab. Alaei and her students are studying Porphyromonas gingivalis, a pathogenic bacteria that causes gum disease.
When’s she not in the lab or in class she can be found at the Office of Global Affairs (OGA). Reddy has been with OGA for three years. “I’m a Senior OGA Fellow,” she said. “I recently started running the study abroad information sessions and am using these sessions as a place to introduce students to the idea of identity and how their identity may impact their study abroad.”
Reddy has some experience when it comes to questions of identity and Study Abroad. While still a student at UW Seattle, Reddy participated in a study abroad to India. “I decided to go to India because of other people’s perceptions of who I am,” she said. “People who I didn’t even know would approach me and say, ‘You must be Indian,’ or ‘You must be from India,’ and it always brought up feelings because my family has a very complicated history, one I’ve never come across in any history book.”
The experience taught Reddy something, just not what she had expected. “I went there thinking if I better understood India that I would better understand myself,” she said. “India is a huge place with different ethnicities, languages and customs — which I didn’t understand until I went there.”
Reddy uses this insight in her work at the OGA. “I talk to students about how our identities don’t disappear or dissolve when we travel abroad,” she said. “We carry them with us as we move throughout the world, and it changes the way people interact with us.”
College graduate is an identity, one Reddy is ready to embrace. “I’d like to combine my global interest with research, maybe as a Fulbright Scholar,” she said. “Eventually, I think I’d like to pursue a Ph.D. I think about that and I think about my grandma’s third grade education and I think about what it means for me to be walking across that stage or to be dreaming of a doctorate. My parents worked so hard and here I’m in the position to chase my dreams, because of my family. It’s special.”