ChaKaria “Kari” Hunter - Alumni Profile

ChaKaria Kari HunterChaKaria “Kari” Hunter
Associate in Science Degree, December, 2013
Member, Phi Theta Kappa

Describe your success story, how you got there, and what are you doing now.

After graduating from OCC, I transferred to the University of Georgia and worked with Engineers Without Borders developing biogas latrines and water sanitation systems in Kenya. As project director, I led our team in design, project management and communicated with our team and mentors to stay on task. Our work is intended to be replicated all around the country for communities with public health problems. To be even a small part of that program was awesome.

In 2016, I worked in the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Interventional Radiology Department. While I did a lot of engineering, I also did a lot of surgical procedure shadowing to learn how devices built by engineers are effective in practice. This experience really showed me the effect I could have in my field: saving lives! After the internship, I worked remotely with NIH while taking classes. Our team applied for a patent for a medical device/robotic arm that we developed for radiation oncology procedures. That fall, I had a paper accepted for publication in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Conference Proceedings based on this project.        

Midway through my senior year at Georgia, I accepted a job offer from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California to be a research engineer. I now live in Silicon Valley working on life support systems for astronauts on the International Space Station, including work optimizing the water-recycling system on the ISS. Not only is my work pretty awesome, but I also get to occasionally visit/work with other branches of NASA, including some of my favorites in exobiology and astronaut psychophysiology training. These experiences have truly helped me decide what I’d like to specialize in for graduate school – my next step!

What did you learn at OCC that prepared you for these opportunities?

When I entered Oakland Early College/OCC, I was only 15 and still very shy, especially among much older college students. With smaller class sizes, my professors knew me and really helped me to grow. I began to see the potential that I have and dream of a future that I didn't know I had – OEC did that for me and I am so thankful.

In my last semester at OCC, I was looking for another science class and chose a physics and engineering class. I fell in love with physics, then engineering, which has led me to where I am today. Working at NASA never crossed my mind until my senior year of college. I now tell others, always keep your mind open to new opportunities!

Briefly describe your time at OCC.

“OEC/OCC is a time for discovery and growth: I learned it is not about how much and how fast you can get done, but understanding what you can do well.”

While at OEC, I overcame a lot of personal and academic challenges, including some unexpected health issues which impacted how much I could handle all at once. I was taking four classes and one to two of these showed this load was just too much. I also learned I loved my major!

Did any one person or activity inspire you throughout your time at OCC to become who you are? What was the impact?

My counselor, Anthony Thomas, played a big part in my growth from the very beginning. His counseling was tremendously helpful, recognizing when I took on too much and helping me to set limits. His encouragement to prepare these challenges after OCC made all the difference. We are still in touch today.

What one piece of advice can you share with incoming or prospective OCC students?

This is just the beginning – look forward to accomplishing a lot more! Let this be the time to ask tough questions about yourself, be aware of where you are right now, and find out what it will take to get you where you want to be.