By Claudia Zequeira
At the age of five, Sothy Kien, who was born in Cambodia, crossed landmine-littered forests into Thailand with her parents in search of a better life. At age eight, she moved again; this time to Australia as a refugee. Years later, she would become the first person in her family to graduate from college.
Just as others provided opportunities for her, Sothy, instructional lab supervisor, wants to pay it forward and provide opportunities for success to Valencia College students.
“It is through these experiences that I am grateful to be where I am and … help our students get the same opportunities that I did,” said Sothy.
As lab supervisor, Sothy manages the day-to-day operations of Lake Nona’s biotechnology lab, a host of functions that include managing the program budget and laboratory space as well as helping to promote, develop and grow the program.
In addition, Sothy provides instructional support in class by helping students learn and develop basic lab skills such as micropipetting, performing aseptic techniques and DNA extraction.
Together, Sothy and Susan Ingersoll, professor and program director of Valencia’s Biotechnology program, have developed a curriculum that not only focuses on the technical skills but also embeds essential skills in today’s workplace, such as time management, team work and organization.
“I feel like I get the best of both worlds, working in a science lab and helping students learn,” said Sothy of her role.
Susan, her supervisor, agrees Sothy is an “inspiration and role model to our students. Her dedication to our program, our students and community is evident. She is an invaluable asset to the Biotechnology program and Valencia.”
Sothy holds a Bachelor of Biotechnology from the University of Adelaide in Australia and spent one year at the Hansen Institute conducting research on the effects of a high-calcium diet on circulating CYP27B1 in the bones of young and old rats, earning her second degree, a Bachelor of Science with honors in the Department of Physiology.
And while she loved science, Sothy realized that she was a people person and enjoyed working with others. Her first job as a lecturer’s assistant at Adelaide North TAFESA, in South Australia allowed her to do just that, helping students learn and sharing her passion for science.
When she met the love of her life, she moved again, this time to the United States and found Valencia. She first started at the West Campus, working as a laboratory assistant and moved her way up as supervisor and now helps manage the Biotechnology program.
Today, Sothy celebrates her 10-year anniversary at Valencia and 13 years of laboratory experience in academia.
“There is nothing more exciting than seeing a light-bulb moment, when a student finally understands a concept or idea and their efforts exceed even their wildest expectations,” adds Sothy.
At Valencia, Sothy is inspired by its supportive leadership as well as “our students and their struggles to find better opportunities for themselves and their families. I am grateful to be in a place where I can share my passion for science and help students learn not only technical skills in the laboratory but essential skills such as time management, planning and communication that will help them in their future job and life in general.”
She is most proud of her efforts to help promote the biotechnology program through outreach events such as the Junior Achievement Inspire, which exposes more than 3,000 eighth-graders to possible careers in biotech, as well as hosting the Biotech Career and Technical Education camps at Lake Nona, which provide hands-on biotech experiences for high school students.
She also feels a sense of accomplishment for helping organize the lab in a “safe and productive way,” which has earned Sothy the nickname the “Marie Kondo of the lab space.”
“While we are truly blessed to be well-funded in terms of getting industry standard equipment through the Perkins Grant, we have the smallest lab space,” said Sothy, adding that the lab holds over 100 pieces of equipment, including a 6-foot biological safety hood worth over $12,000.
In addition, Sothy has helped create internship opportunities for students on campus and in industry and is excited to be part of the team that is working to improve the internship experience and expand opportunities for Biotech students through a grant from the National Science Foundation, known internally as BIO-SPARK.
Also in the past few months, she helped moved a lab-based course to an online format. Working with Susan, Sothy created an online project called COVID-19, where students worked in teams to develop two tests, a quantitative polymerase chain reaction test (qRT-PCR) to detect the presence of the virus and another enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, (ELISA)-based test to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood.
“Not only was this project relevant and timely to their studies in biotechnology, it allowed the students to explore and research scientific literature and sources at reputable sites such as the Centers for Disease Control.”
She is also appreciative of her co-workers who support her and the biotechnology program. Besides Susan, her supervisor, she also praised the leadership of Mike Bosley, executive dean, Lake Nona Campus.
“The people that I work with truly make Valencia the place to be at,” said Sothy, adding they have been “supportive from day one.”
Sothy also values Valencia because she considers it a place of hope.
“For me personally, Valencia signifies a new beginning where dreams could come true. It is a place where people from all walks of life could enter one door of opportunity and walk out with a degree that opens many more doors of opportunities,” she said.
In her free time, Sothy loves to write, read, travel, run, weight train and spend time with her family of six.
She is also a strong advocate for human rights and has visited the United Nations in New York and Geneva to represent the Khmer Krom, an indigenous peoples living in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, a place where her parents were born and relatives continue to live today.
Know of someone doing great work at the College, who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.