PATH Alumni Spotlight: Chelsea Coon

PATH Cohort of 2017 – UCSD Class of 2020

February 26, 2021

“I am pretty gregarious,” Chelsea says, laughing. And this certainly proves to be true during our interview. Chelsea has a way of being open and honest about her life that makes her the perfect interview subject. It’s this communicative quality that describes her approach to education, as well.

 “I think that brings me the most joy, is just learning about people and their experiences.” Chelsea’s fascination with people and their stories naturally led to her interest in the arts and humanities, specifically literature. “It’s like a kaleidoscope of different cultures, different people.” 

So when she heard about the PATH program from Dr. Kelly Mayhew, one of her mentors at San Diego City College, she was delighted. She attended an information session at City College led by Laura Martin and Danny Widener and was sold right away. “It was all about talking about the arts and humanities and then dealing with it in a practical way, and looking at the world in a critical way. I wanted to be a part of it.” So Chelsea applied to UCSD.

And then she was rejected. 

However, this setback did not deter her. She appealed the decision from admissions after receiving encouragement from Mayhew and others who knew that she belonged at a UC. Soon after, her appeal was accepted, and Chelsea was on her way to study Literatures of English at UCSD. 

But the self-doubt she experienced in that moment – and throughout the vast majority of her educational career prior to transferring – would stay with her even after being accepted to UCSD. “Impostor syndrome, I think, is the biggest demon that I have.” 

As an undergrad, Chelsea would often see other students who seemed to have everything under control, juggling classes, work, and other responsibilities with ease. “And there I was dropping my books everywhere, crying, having panic attacks — thinking ‘no one understands me. I’m alone.’” This is a common experience for transfer students upon entering an institution like UCSD, known for its rapid pace and academic rigor. “A quarter system does not give you time to ruminate and reflect a lot,” Chelsea jokes.

But being in the PATH program helped Chelsea to navigate these feelings of impostor syndrome. With PATH, she was able to access mentorship from her professors and support from her peers. After completing two courses in five weeks during the 2018 PATH Summer Academy, Chelsea was more confident in her abilities and her place at UCSD. “I was intimidated, but through PATH I didn’t feel like I was any less than or any more than. I felt accommodated. You feel you belong there.”

And while Chelsea still struggles with feelings of impostor syndrome, she hasn’t let that stop her from achieving her goals. In 2019, Chelsea went on to obtain a bachelor’s with Honors in Literatures of English. She even wrote an honors thesis in her senior year, a process which coincided with a personal tragedy that she experienced during her last quarter. This event, she says, changed the way that she approached her education. During that time, Chelsea says, “I had to make sure that I was getting enough sleep — that I was treating myself kindly. And I got really good grades [that quarter] because I wasn’t overthinking it. I just enjoyed the process.”

And she recommends future PATH students do the same. “Don’t feel pressured by society or your parents or anyone to do a certain thing,” Chelsea advises. “You should go through the path that is enriching to your soul and heart and you’ll find that more paths open.”

These days, Chelsea is exploring different skills and experiences, including getting a certification in Adobe Photoshop and taking continuing education classes on social media and business. “I call it my experiential gap year because I don’t think that there’s a right or a wrong way post-college, or that you have to go straight into graduate school. It’s more like building a thesis on you.

Chelsea’s advice to past, current, and future PATH cohorts who are building their own theses is this:

“Go and do what you want! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Be available for the moment.”

Written by Fartoon Hagi-Mohamed.

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