Meet Sara Milles Gupta (CCS Biology '02)

October 19, 2018

Editor’s note: We are featuring stories from members of the CCS community. Some stories will be personal and others will be written in the third person. Check them out here and make sure to submit your own story here.

Sara Milles Gupta reflects on her time as a first-generation college student at CCS

Sara Milles Gupta with her husband and two children
Sara Milles Gupta with her husband and two children

CCS: How has CCS impacted your life?

Sara Milles Gupta: As a first-generation college graduate, being part of a program like CCS was critical to my success.  It allowed me to take part in my education at a deeper level and forge my own path.  I am someone who prefers to do things my own way and CCS allowed me that by giving me the opportunity to partner with my advisor and design my own curriculum based on my goals and interests. Like many, I am also a hands-on learner.  CCS allowed me to be more hands-on with my learning by working in a lab and conducting research from day one. In a more traditional setting, this access to being self-directed and “doing” is just not available.

CCS: Why did you choose to come to CCS? How did you find out about the College?

SMG: When I heard about CCS from a mentor, it instantly sounded like the right fit for me. The idea of self-directed, hands-on learning was really exciting.  It was positioned to me as a place where you were allowed the freedom and trust to drive your education.  I also loved the idea of having an advisor as a partner in my journey. So, while the program was very self-directed, the access to an advisor made me feel supported at the same time. 

CCS: What was your favorite aspect or professor or experience while at CCS?

SMG: I personally loved that I was encouraged to explore unique topics and trends in my major.  At the time, I was really interested in exobiology—the study of the origin and early evolution of life and the potential of life to adapt to different environments. I remembered being encouraged to explore this and connect with other students with similar interests. As someone who did not find high school all that inspiring, this type of freedom at CCS to be really curious and explore a topic deeply was incredibly refreshing and liberating. I also loved that every CCS student was naturally curious.  

CCS: Describe your career, profession, job. Does it relate to what you studied at CCS? If so, how? 

SMG: I have spent most of my career in start-ups, primarily in technology, surrounded by some truly inspiring entrepreneurs.  In a way, I see CCS as very entrepreneurial.  CCS is an environment where you are encouraged to think differently, to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo, and to create something new. Getting exposure to this way of thinking during my education served me very well during my career. These are the fundamental skills of a collaborative leader and definitely of an entrepreneur.  It is important to call this out: while CCS is a great track for a long-term career in academics, I believe it to also be an incredible track for those looking to excel in the private sector as well.

CCS is an environment where you are encouraged to think differently, to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo, and to create something new.

I have remained inspired by the student/advisor partnership at CCS and have leveraged the learnings from that relationship throughout my career. Being trusted as a student to be an advocate for my personal goals while being coached by a leader in my field of study was very powerful. I have applied this experience to my leadership style throughout my career and now in my consulting and executive coaching work.

CCS: Does a memorable moment stand out from your time at CCS? If so, please describe the moment.

SMG: The most memorable moment for me was being accepted to CCS.  Being the first in my family to go to college, I had never thought of myself as an academic. Being accepted to CCS raised my confidence and allowed me to see myself in a new light—as a learner.  It was incredibly empowering and a moment that changed my course in life and certainly my professional life. 

CCS: What advice would you give to current and future CCS students and parents?

SMG: CCS is an incredible opportunity to experience a small college within the structure of a large university.  If you are deeply curious and a self-starter who likes to do things your own way—I highly recommend CCS.
CCS: Anything else you would like to share about CCS/UCSB or your post-CCS/UCSB experience?

SMG: UCSB and CCS are such special places.  I consider myself truly lucky to have been able to experience both the university and the community of Santa Barbara.  If you find yourself fortunate enough to experience it as well, be sure to take the time to enjoy the environment and community around you.  You will be so glad you did.  Best of luck!

Sara's experience as a first-generation student and studying abroad while at UCSB had significant impact on her life, and led Sara and her husband to recently fund a multi-year scholarship to a UCSB first-generation student to study abroad in an emerging country.