Growing Strong – Erica Occena

As a four-year starter on the Meredith softball team and a double major in biology and chemistry, Erica Occena, ’18, has challenged herself to grow and succeed in the future. With a close, supportive community, she has grown as a person and finds herself prepared for the next chapter of her life.

Erica came to Meredith to play softball and experience the city life of Raleigh, but soon found much more at the College. ”The fact that it’s an all women’s college allowed me to be more comfortable with finding myself and allowed me to make friends easier,” said Erica. “People are a little more friendly, and it’s a close community.”

Part of Erica’s on-campus community is Meredith’s softball team, which she helped lead to a USA South East Division Championship. She also has collected three USA South All-Academic honors to go along with a USA South All-Conference honor and two All-East selections. Erica is Meredith’s all-time leader in stolen bases and sits third in runs, triples, and walks.

“My favorite things are the friendships I’ve made with my teammates and all the good memories that we have. At first it seemed like [college softball] just changed me as an athlete, but now I can look back and say it changed me as a person.”

She also credits the faculty and staff for making her stronger and helping her overcome challenges.

“Between my sophomore and junior years, I decided that I needed to make myself more outgoing and overcome the shyness I had coming into college,” said Erica. “I wanted to start networking harder to make sure I had an internship the following summer and set myself up for a better situation after graduation.”

Erica reached out to faculty in Meredith’s biology and chemistry departments along with the Office of Career Planning for help. “The faculty and staff have always been there to help me when I needed it and were as interested in my well-being as I was. [It was] a big part of what helped me the most and what I’ve enjoyed at Meredith,” she said.

Besides being a student-athlete, Erica is an Honors Scholar and a chemistry tutor. She is also a member of the College’s chapters of Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honors Society, Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society, and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, for which she served as club secretary.

Erica has enjoyed earning her double major even though balancing softball and academic life has been tough.

“It’s been a challenging course load, but I had a love for chemistry out of high school and I knew that’s what I wanted to do as a freshman,” Erica said. “I really decided on the double major when I took biochemistry my junior year with Dr. Aghoram. Seeing interdisciplinary connections and how those two worlds come together made me want to go into biology as well.”

As graduation approaches, Erica is ready to take on her next challenge as a global manufacturing sciences associate in analytical chemistry at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

“It’s a rotational program where after graduation, I’ll have three rotations over three years to experience different roles in various departments at GSK. At the end of the rotations, they hope to offer me a full-time job where I’ll be in a leadership position.”

By Miranda Daughtry, ’18

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