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Learning how to ask for help

Senior Mimi Tra overcame medical hurdles to attend Carolina through C-STEP, all while also serving as an EMT.

Mimi Tra
(Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Mimi Tra learned early on that asking for help is a sign of strength, and she credits that lesson with her success in college.

“I know it can be scary to ask for help, but it’s OK to express how you feel,” Tra says. “You have to learn how to be vulnerable enough to ask for and accept help, but once you do, you realize how it improves your life as a student and person in general.”

Tra dreamed of attending Carolina and going into the health care field. She had planned out her future in high school and took courses to prepare herself to attend a four-year college to study science but was dealt a literal and figurative blow in her junior year of high school when she received a concussion while playing rugby. The injury hindered Tra’s studies, which caused her grades to suffer, and she fell into a deep depression.

By her senior year, she knew something had to change.

“It was easy to say I needed help recovering from a physical injury like a concussion but asking for help for my resulting depression was more difficult,” Tra says. “But once I did, I was able to start looking toward the future again.”

Tra decided to attend Central Piedmont Community College and began taking biology courses with the goal of transferring to a university. While she worked toward her associate degree, Tra also enrolled in emergency medical classes and became certified as an EMT. While balancing working as an EMT and studying, Tra learned about and applied to C-STEP at her community college, which provides a pathway for high-achieving community college students to transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill.

When she was accepted, C-STEP provided Tra with the help to become the first person in her family to attend a four-year college.

“That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. My parents didn’t have this opportunity, and I have the chance to pursue a career in a field that helps other people,” says Tra, who is now a senior at Carolina.

Her experience recovering from a traumatic brain injury inspired her to study exercise and sports science because the major allows her to study her condition in an academic setting and prepares her for a career in health care. Although she always knew she wanted to work in medicine, Tra says that her injury, time spent as an EMT and exercise and sports science classes clarified her path forward, and she plans on pursuing a career as a physician assistant.

“Working as an EMT in Matthews, North Carolina, and Orange County gave me the chance to observe different professions within the hospital and seeing how they work directly with patients and provide immediate care helped me make my decision,” Tra says.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, Tra also formed the Carolina chapter of Vida Volunteer, a service organization made up of undergraduate pre-health students who travel to Central America to provide free medical care in rural areas. When Tra returned from the trip to Costa Rica in July, she was thankful for the opportunity to gain more experience and a new perspective abroad.

“Not everyone gets to practice what they want to do for the rest of their life when they’re an undergraduate, so I feel lucky that we had that opportunity and that C-STEP helped cover my costs to go volunteer,” Tra says.

Knowing how to ask for what she needs, Tra, said, has been a critical practice that has helped throughout her academic journey.

“If I hadn’t asked for help with my depression in high school, or if I didn’t ask about transfer programs at my community college, or if I didn’t ask if C-STEP could cover part of my service trip, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Tra says. “That’s why it’s important to understand that asking for help isn’t a bad thing. It’s how you show you’re strong.”