This story ends with chocolate chip cookies on a doorstep.
Ten years earlier, pockets empty, Niti Vyas had picked up her son and walked away from an abusive marriage. Her life had revolved around supporting her husband's business, running a household, and raising their child. Now what?
Vyas traces the beginning of her transformation to San Jacinto College. Still reeling from her divorce, she came to the College in 2012 to reclaim her identity and provide better for her son. Although she had earned a degree in India, her credits didn't transfer to the U.S. Enter the College's medical laboratory technology program, which mirrored her previous microbiology training.
Her family supported her decision to return to school in her mid-30s, but it wasn't common in her culture. An even higher hurdle was self-doubt: She didn't know how to use a laptop, navigate Houston, or even pay bills.
"With change comes a lot of uncertainties and struggles," Vyas said.
As a single mom herself, Dr. Lindsey Douglas, now the College's medical laboratory technology program director, stepped in. She encouraged Vyas, tutored her, and worked around her family needs so she could remain in the program.
Vyas' clinical site, a high-volume Houston Methodist Hospital lab, led to a technician position after graduation. Although enjoying the work, Vyas felt a pull to continue learning.
While pursuing a bachelor's program at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Vyas learned UTMB would be the first in Texas to offer the new Doctorate of Clinical Laboratory Sciences. This degree would allow her to consult with patients alongside medical doctors and teach at the university level.
Vyas jumped on the opportunity. By summer 2020, she numbered among the first 10 students nationwide to earn the degree. Today, the San Jac alumna teaches as an assistant professor in the UTMB Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
Grateful to all her supporters, Vyas supports others however she can — from co-chairing a San Jac advisory board and mentoring new UTMB faculty to volunteering at a Galveston clinic that cares for underserved patients. An organization from India has even asked her to help empower disadvantaged, victimized women to pursue careers and independence.
Looking back on many sink-or-swim seasons, Vyas says nothing was impossible, just difficult. Achieving her doctorate as a single mom, she is a pioneer in her Indian community. When word spread she was now "Dr. Niti Vyas," her community celebrated with her.
For some, hanging a framed diploma would signal success. For Vyas, it was opening her door to find chocolate chip cookies and congratulations cards from strangers. What had inspired them? Of course, the doctorate. But even more, her ability to create beauty from brokenness.
"Whatever good or bad circumstance may come our way, you can always give it meaning and change it into something of value," Vyas said. "It's all about perspective."
Read other profiles in the Chancellor's Report to the Community.
According to an old saying, charity begins at home, but no one ever said it should end there. I feel blessed to have a meaningful impact not only on my life but also on others around me ... to contribute to the good of society. I continue to develop my legacy by teaching and helping my students feel a sense of ownership, accountability, and meaning.