Alumni Spotlight: Author Yao

Published September 24, 2021

Like many undergrads, when Author first set out to college straight out of high school, he didn’t have a clear idea of what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “My prefrontal cortex hadn’t fully developed yet,” he laughed. He did know which university he wanted to attend though: “CSULB was always the plan, it was where my sister went before me, and I’ve always been in love with the clean and open campus design, not to mention the very affordable tuition compared to the alternatives.

He also did know what he liked to work with: numbers, computers, and problems. He knew he wanted to be in healthcare, having been a licensed pharmacy technician since high school. So, after some soul searching, he quickly pivoted from being a biology major to one in Health Care Administration. The decision was not random. “My parents frankly could not relate to me being a biology major; my mom holds an MBA and my dad is a computer engineer. We finally began speaking the same language when I told them I wanted to help healthcare businesses fix their problems rooted in technology or the lack thereof,” he said. 

Author described his time in the program as an experience that forever altered the trajectory of his life. “I am always so amazed at how far I’ve come from my former self! The HCA program was instrumental in pushing me out of my shell and laying the foundations for me to think and act like – and ultimately become – a leader in healthcare. It was a combination of the wonderfully approachable faculty in the program, the practical coursework (yes, even those dreaded group projects), and the many opportunities. It helped me narrow down my niche!” 

How did your experiences in HCA prepare you to find opportunities to start your career?  

Author credits the internship component of the program as an essential experience that really helped him prepare for what to expect when entering the workforce. He said, “The partnership between CSULB’s HCA program and the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center was key to helping me gain the confidence to know that I could succeed out there in the healthcare industry. They really put a lot of thought into which department you’d be the best fit in, and I learned a great deal about the healthcare workforce and the niche that I’d excel in; it helped I had an exemplary preceptor (shout-out to Dr. Yvonne Ginez-Gonzales).” He also attributes professors for inspiring him to do research and become more involved. “Just remember, professors are human beings too,” he says, “they’re more than just the heavily biased representations you find on crowdsourced professor rating sites; if you reach out to them in earnest and are willing to put in the work, I think you’ll find they’re just as invested in seeing you succeed as you are!” 

Author cites campus organizations including the Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) and the Health Care Administration Student Forum (HCASF) for affording him tremendous opportunities for personal and professional growth. “You have an opt-out & opt-in student fee that supports these student organizations, so why not check them out and see what they’re actually doing to support you? I think you’ll find they have a treasure trove of resources to help you become really successful,” he remarked. Author also credits his fellowship with the National Institutes of Health’s BUILD Scholars program on campus for developing his research prowess and ability to communicate science effectively, of which he was a part of for two years with Dr. Erlyana Erylana as his mentor in their first cohort. 

“Funnily enough, I never actually knew where I’d end up exactly. I just knew that every healthcare organization I’ve been in had the same overarching thematic problems, and rather than sitting around waiting for them to fix them, I decided maybe if I take matters into my own hands, I could be one less voice complaining about problems and instead become part of the solution,” he said. At the time of the interview, Author was the Manager of Data Intelligence for Mental Health at the Children’s Health of Orange County (CHOC) overseeing a growing team of data analysts. He credits his coursework in statistical and research methods for helping him understand the utility and characteristics of data, and described how healthcare accounting/finance, marketing, medical terminology, legal, human resources, and information systems were all key in helping him get to his current role. “There’s not a single day that goes by where I don’t use something I learned from those courses, but of course those classes were not the end of it – they just showed me the way, and I actively branch out that knowledge every day from reading the news, guides, and journal articles to keep myself up-to-date,” he said. 

“There is an easy way and a hard way to doing things, but they do not both lead to the same outcome,” he said, “I had the opportunity to take either the easiest courses for easy A’s or the hardest courses for a possible dent to my GPA. I chose the latter because I wanted to challenge my way of thinking and force myself out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t an easy choice since I knew I risked losing a 4.0 GPA, but at the end of the day remember employers don’t care about your GPA; they care about what you know and what they can help them with. No risk, no reward; I’m not saying ignore your grades because they’re unfortunately still a metric that’s important if you want to go to grad school, but focus more on what interests you and let that guide your path. Everything else will fall into place.”