Meet Pitzer senior Dasani Watkins ’22, a mathematics major, student leader, and an aspiring astronaut! Learn more about her educational journey and future career aspirations in our Q&A.
How did you discover Pitzer, and why did you choose to attend?
I discovered Pitzer through my high school college counselor. I am a Collegiate Directions scholar, and they recommended I apply. I was hosted at Pitzer before I was accepted, and I liked the programs they had to offer, such as the Southern Africa study abroad program and the domestic exchange program with Spelman College. I also connected with Pitzer’s core values—specifically environmental sustainability, because I am passionate about keeping the Earth green and safe for future generations to come. I also liked the intercultural understanding core value, because it showed that Pitzer valued and was committed to learning about different cultures, which is something I wanted to do by studying abroad, although that was canceled due to COVID. I felt like Pitzer had a lot of opportunities and connections that would prepare me for my future.
You are a mathematics major, but you did not start out that way. What brought you to this point?
Originally, I was a 3-2 management engineering major, and I decided to switch in my junior year. (3-2 management engineering is a five-year program, offered in conjunction with other institutions, that allows students to receive both a BA in management engineering from Pitzer and a BS in engineering from the second institution.) I continued with the 3-2 management engineering major for a while because a professor at Keck told me that it was unlikely that I’d succeed in that major. I wanted to prove them wrong. However, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the classes that I was taking. I didn’t even like the major. In my junior year, I had completed all the requirements for that major. Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t been to school in a long time, so I didn’t want to transfer schools, which is what you do in the 3-2 program. I realized that I wasn’t doing the major for myself anymore. But I really liked math, and I enjoyed doing those classes, so I decided to switch to math. I’m glad I did it.
What was your favorite class and why?
I took a class called Special Topics in Literature, Race, and Gender in American Film with Professor Derik Smith at Claremont McKenna College. It was part of the Inside-Out program, and we would dissect films and analyze characters and unpack racism within those films. It was on Zoom, which was unfortunate because it wasn’t actually in the prison. I could never watch a movie the same way again after that class. Another class that I liked was Methods and Modeling at Scripps. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to apply to mathematics programs on the graduate level.
Could you talk about your involvement in extracurricular activities on campus?
I am the secretary for the Black Student Union this academic year, and we host weekly meetings, plan events for the students, and engage with the community. As the secretary, I’m responsible for taking meeting notes. I wasn’t as involved during the second semester because of senior things.
Once you have your degree, how will you give back to your community?
I have a lot of things that I want to do. I want to start my own nonprofit one day and offer mentoring for students who come from communities like mine. I want there to be more Black women in STEM because there isn’t a lot of us. I also want to provide an opportunity for underrepresented students to go to college.
What are your career aspirations after college?
I want to get a PhD in applied mathematics, then I want to work at NASA or any agency that can take me to the moon because I want to be an astronaut. That’s my main goal.
Why do you want to be an astronaut?
I feel like it’s such an amazing thing to fly rockets and go to space and go to the moon. There are only four Black women who have gone to space. I want to be a part of the change that I wish to see in the world. I want to go to space and reach those limits. I go by this quote: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land on the stars.” If I keep trying to reach bigger heights and go forward, eventually I’ll reach something that is really great. Why not be an astronaut, you know? I can do anything. I want to go to the moon and Mars one day!
You got into the post-baccalaureate program at Northwestern University. Tell us about that!
The post-baccalaureate program is to help you bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate school. Because of the pandemic, I didn’t feel as prepared to enter graduate school. Also, I didn’t know I wanted to go to graduate school until the deadlines had already passed. I applied to this program because it helps you with the GRE and provides counseling. I’ve already been taking courses in applied mathematics at Northwestern University. During this program, you also work on a research project. It provides a full tuition and a stipend, so it’s great.
What advice would you give to future Pitzer students?
Follow your dreams, and don’t let anyone stop you from achieving what you want to do. Even when times get hard, keep going and don’t give up. And listen to your intuition.