Love of Academia Inspires Alumna's Work as Policy Analyst at UCSF Academic Senate

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When Sophia Root ’19 was living in Turkey after earning her master’s degree in public health and health promotion from Brunel University London, she accepted a job back in the Bay Area and leaned on the contacts and skills she learned as a psychology and international studies double major at Dominican University of California.

Sophia became a special projects analyst and then was promoted to a public policy analyst after about two years at the Academic Senate of the University of California San Francisco on its Mission Bay campus.

“What Dominican taught me is how to think on my feet, problem solving, and how to do research,” Sophia says. “Those are very important and necessary.”

How Sophia found Dominican in the first place sounds a little like destiny. With a Turkish-born mother and father born and raised in Idaho, Sophia and her family toured California colleges one summer. Why California? It was mainly due to how beautiful the state is, the weather, and the plethora of prestigious higher education institutions. 

“My parents visited California once when they first were married and they said you absolutely have to go to California,” she said, smiling.

Additionally, it was also a conversation and guidance from her school counselor in Baku, Azerbaijan at Baku International School, Sandy Francis '64, who is also a Dominican alumna, that drew Sophia to San Rafael and Dominican and the School of Liberal Arts and Education.

“The campus is cute. It’s beautiful. They have very interesting programs and very generous scholarships,” Sophia said.

Originally, Sophia declared psychology as her major. She was immediately impressed with her professors. Psychology professor Dr. Matthew Davis and political science professor Alison Howard helped Sophia with her research poster on “language, emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity” that she eventually presented as an honors student at Dominican’s Scholarly and Creative Works Conference. Psychology professor Dr. William Phillips has become a great source of support, even after she graduated from Dominican. Sophia also credits psychology professor Dr. Afshin Gharib for helping inspire her.

“Dr. Gharib is a phenomenal lecturer. I took one of his classes and he was talking about prions, and I will never forget that lecture. For two hours I felt like I shouldn’t blink because I didn’t want to miss any information,” Sophia says.

Sophia also was sort of lucky to have added international studies as a major. During her freshman year her roommate told her about one of her professors in a political science class at Dominican taught by a woman of Turkish-descent, Dr. Gigi Gokcek.  Sophia attended one of her classes and met Dr. Gokcek, who in turn convinced Sophia that she could major in international studies as well.

“And she became my academic advisor,” Sophia says. “All the professors at Dominican are really nice. Just phenomenal people, and you want to learn from them. I think that is one thing that you don’t find in other institutions is not only how knowledgeable Dominican professors are but also how much they care.”

At Dominican, in addition to being an honors student, Sophia worked in Marin County as a data entry intern at Academic Therapy Publications and was a financial and administrative volunteer at Next Generation Scholars. When she graduated from Dominican, Sophia became an English language instructor at the American Language Center in Morocco, yet she longed for more once the worldwide pandemic hit. Sophia discovered she could get a master’s degree online at Brunel University London. This was especially convenient considering all the embassies were closed during the pandemic, so getting a student visa was out of the question. The opportunity to study online from a prestigious university in the UK without delay to wait for the pandemic to come to a close and for embassies to open up again was wonderful for Sophia.

“I really loved the healthcare sphere and I really wanted to broaden my horizons,” she explained. “I thought I’ll just do a lot of research online and discover public health, which encompasses a variety of health topics from policy to epidemiology. It’s just so broad. That’s what attracted me to it.”

While Sophia was doing her master's work online from Turkey, she was taking French-learning lessons online from The Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne and also participating in Brunel’s Reach Every Ambition by Developing Yourself (READY) Programme that encompassed working in a team to find sustainable solutions for refugees living in a refugee settlement in Zambia.

Over the summer, while wrapping up her master’s thesis she applied for and was accepted for the position of Special Projects Analyst at the UCSF Academic Senate. Her duties include creating various reports, letters, agendas, minutes, newsletters, and videos to foster stakeholder collaboration to enhance public health, research funding, faculty wellbeing, and equitable research and publications. She collects and compiles data to draft concise letters for the review of the University of California policies for the improvement of public health (i.e., vaccine policy), research, and education. She also helped manage, in collaboration with stakeholders, the development and implementation of a committee project that was successfully granted funding.

“I’m a facilitator of discussion, I suppose,” Sophia says.

The last two years she predominantly has been an analyst for the Committee on Library & Scholarly Communication (COLASC). Sophia’s investment in her work in the UCSF Academic Senate is paying off. She has adjusted and adapted to the point that she may have found her niche.

“I really love academia. That’s what I like about this job because I get to really be involved in academia across all fields. That’s very interesting. And I get to learn more about how all of this works,” Sophia says. “I would like to remain in academia.”

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