KANNAPOLIS – TeQuana Bayless has been a bit of a science nerd her entire life.
“I remember in elementary school, my mom bought me a chemistry set so I could grow my own crystals,” she said. “In high school, I worked closely with my microbiology and chemistry teachers.”
So, it’s no surprise that she’s working on diabetes and obesity research for Crown Biosciences at the North Carolina Research Campus.
But it took two degrees and a lot of hard work for Bayless to land her dream job.
It was a no-brainer to her that she would major in biology during her time at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
But after graduating in 2007, Bayless got a rude awakening – landing a job in the science field without a specialty was going to be difficult.
Bayless didn’t want to give up on her dream of working in a research lab, so she applied for jobs while working various odd jobs.
“I didn’t want to take a permanent position because I was going on countless interviews,” she said. “People asked if I had ever thought about going back to school to get a two-year degree so I could pick up a specialization, but I thought that was so backwards.”
After a year passed, Bayless realized she was going to have to take a job outside her field, so she started working at Wachovia in downtown Charlotte as an accounting analyst.
“They didn’t care what my degree was in, they just wanted to make sure I could problem solve and do critical thinking,” she said.
When Wells Fargo took over Wachovia, Bayless moved into an online support position working primarily in customer service.
“The jobs were totally unrelated,” she said.
At that point, Bayless knew it was time to get back to her roots, so she decided to attend classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College full time.
“I wanted to put my degree to good use and I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream,” she said.
Feedback from former professors led her to find out more about biotechnology.
“They were telling me about the (Research) Campus and how there would probably be jobs there,” she said.
“I looked into it, debated it, checked into other programs,” she said. “I was kind of still undecided when someone from the scholarship office called to tell me I could get a scholarship, but I needed to finish filling out my application.
“I didn’t have an excuse so I decided to go.”
Bayless began classes at the school’s biotechnology building at the Research Campus in the fall of 2010 and wrapped up her associate’s degree by the following summer.
“Everything that I learned in the program, I am doing almost on a daily or weekly basis,” she said. “That knowledge is not going unused.”
Working with state-of-the-art equipment made Bayless’ transition from the classroom to the laboratory smooth.
“I’ve even taught co-workers how to use the high-tech lab equipment. I learned how to fully operate machines like the high performance liquid chromatograph while in the Rowan-Cabarrus biotechnology program,” she said.
During her time at Rowan-Cabarrus, Bayless had a co-op at Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory at the Research Campus.
“If I could pass on anything to today’s college students it would be that they need to do internships and co-ops,” she said. “Getting real world experience that you can put on your resume is critical.
“Employers want more than a degree and class projects – they want to know you can actually do the job.”
As a working mother, Bayless hopes her daughters, 13-year-old Ezranique and 3-year-old Brielle, understand that with hard work and determination there are no limits to what they can do.
“It’s important to me to show my girls that women can have STEM careers,” she said. “We can work in labs and be scientists.”
Going back to school wasn’t easy, Bayless said she and her daughters woke up every day at 4 a.m. so she could get to work early in order to leave for class each day and still get home with time to spend with the family.
“I really hope that people see they shouldn’t give up,” she said. “It’s always going to be a tough world, but never get discouraged because many doors closed on my way, but I never stopped dreaming.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.