By 21, Madeline Yun was the general manager of a Chipotle in Sacramento, California. But she knew she wanted more than burritos and cilantro-lime rice.
“It was a big deal for a 21 year old, but at that point in my life, I knew I could do so much more,” Yun said. “I had the ability. I just needed to be in the right position to get there.”
The change she was searching for came in 2014 when her mother earned a promotion within her company and moved the family to Durham.
That same year, Yun became a new mother.
“After I had my daughter, Cora, I realized I wanted to create a stable life for us,” said Yun, now 25. “I didn’t want to always have to work and barely make ends meet so I decided to go back to school. It was the perfect time because she was so young.”
Yun enrolled at Durham Tech in Fall 2015.
College was a challenge for Yun at first, but it turned around quickly.
“I didn’t know what it was like to be in college because I had never been,” Yun said. “When I first started, I had forgotten how to study and I hadn’t spoken to professors before. I got to dip my toes in and try it all out at Durham Tech.”
As she worked toward an associate’s degree in engineering, she also worked part-time in the computer lab on campus.
Yun says it was challenging as a student parent.
“I struggled with the guilt of putting my daughter in daycare at such a young age,” Yun said. “There were moments where I felt like I was giving up too much precious time with her for a journey that I wasn’t sure would be beneficial for us. Self-doubt and guilt are obstacles I am learning to navigate as a student parent. Looking back, I am so grateful for the family, friends, and teachers in my life that encouraged me to continue.”
Yun graduated from Durham Tech in May 2017 and transferred to North Carolina State University where she is now majoring in Chemical Engineering. She credits Durham Tech for helping her find her career path.
“I didn’t start at Durham Tech thinking I wanted to be an engineer, let alone a chemical engineer,” Yun said. “While taking chemistry, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ I like the aspect of being able to use math to describe things in our world.”
Two months before she graduated from Durham Tech, her math instructor, Dr. Margaret Memory, announced the upcoming deadline for NC State’s Goodnight Scholars Program, which is a comprehensive scholarship program that awards full rides to students in STEM fields.
“The program gives you opportunities to be a better leader after you graduate and to pay it forward and serve the community that has done so much for you,” Yun said.
Yun quickly applied and was notified in April that she was a recipient.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” Yun said. “I was on cloud nine. It’s not just a full ride scholarship, it’s people saying, ‘We want to invest in you and we think you’re going to be a future leader,’ and that was a huge confidence booster for me.”
The NC State Goodnight Scholars Program chooses 50 first year recipients and 10 transfer student recipients every year. Yun and Luis Aguilar Angel were both Durham Tech transfer students awarded the scholarship.
“Being a Goodnight Scholar has already impacted my life in enormous ways,” Yun said. “Getting to be in situations where I get to learn from leaders that are out there right now is big. It also gives me an opportunity to be an advocate for transfer students, which I have a real passion for.”
Yun anticipates graduating from NC State in 2020 and wants to gain work experience at a local biomanufacturing company before starting her own company for chemical synthesis and machine learning. She eventually wants to sell that company and possibly venture into politics to become an advocate for education.
“Education gives us an opportunity to rise above our circumstances,” Yun said. “My mom worked so hard in the restaurant industry to support us and give us opportunities and now I’m going to school to be an engineer to give my daughter more opportunities.”