Life Beyond the Redwoods: Teresa Faasolo reflects on her educational journey one year after graduating from UCSC

Teresa Faasolo (Merrill ’22, computer engineering)

Teresa Faasolo’s first day at UC Santa Cruz still rings clear in her mind thanks to a long trudge up Crown/Merrill College’s “cardiac hill”—arguably the steepest hill on campus. The climb, paired with the euphoric feeling of being at UC Santa Cruz for the first time, left Faasolo breathless. 

Her mind cleared with one thought: 

I made it. 

Faasolo grew up in East Palo Alto in a Tongan-Samoan household. Her parents immigrated to the United States in their teens. Her father was a sheet metal worker, while her mother worked as a caretaker for the elderly. 

“[Being first-gen] was difficult. My family only knew as far as construction, and that was the closest they had to STEM-related knowledge,” Fassolo says. “The only way they could help me is by giving me as much financial support as they could provide, but most importantly, the emotional support I needed.”

Now, about a year after graduating with a B.S. in computer engineering, Faasolo is a software quality assurance engineer at Digital Dynamics, Inc., based in Scotts Valley. 

Faasolo’s Trek to Tech

The first year of school was no cakewalk. On top of being a first-generation college student and a person of color, Faasolo embarked on a field with a very small population of women. 

She knew she wanted to do something challenging and fulfilling, and as her first year went on she settled on computer engineering. 

“I didn’t know how to code before I got to college,” Faasolo says. 

One of the first classes she took was CSE 12, Computer Systems and Assembly Language. After her first midterm exam, Faasolo felt worried about her ability to sustain herself in the class. 

On the verge of failing CSE 12, she reached out to her professor to ask for help. After many sleepless nights, she pulled through and the coding language began to click. 

It was the class where she truly learned how to code. 

“I’m a woman in STEM. I’m POC, too. I had little to no experience in computer programming. But this class was a game changer,” Faasolo says. “It’s where I realized how much I really wanted this.”

Throughout her whole journey at UCSC, she faced the challenges of being in a male-dominated field, and her classes often reflected that reality. Faasolo refused to let it keep her down. 

With her own motivation keeping her steady, she also found great comfort in the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) Program. Faasolo found her community within MEP, which aims to foster the growth of first-generation engineering students. 

“They had supportive tutors who had been through the experience,” Faasolo says. “People were there to listen and relate, and make us feel better about our experiences.”

She went from struggling in CSE 12 to being a leader in her mechatronics class for her senior capstone project. 

During a career fair at Jack Baskin Engineering’s Courtyard, she found Digital Dynamics, Inc. She took the chance, applied—and landed an interview.

Now, Faasolo’s managers and her colleagues say she brings an uplifting energy to a rather competitive field. 

“If you can find your muse, or that little light in the dark tunnel, you can push through any hardships that you might face,” Faasolo explains. “Every time I needed to get my head straight, I thought of my reason: self-improvement.

As the years have gone by since that first trudge up cardiac hill, Faasolo keeps outperforming her own expectations and growing with each new step she takes for herself. 

Each time, she is left with the same feeling:

I made it.