College of Science & Engineering Alumni Newsletter
A Brilliant Star
young women may dream of one day becoming a medical doctor, perhaps an
Air Force officer, or maybe even the loftiest goal of all – an
astronaut. Since graduating from San Francisco State University with
a Bachelor of Arts degree in biochemistry in 1981, Yvonne Darlene Cagle
has accomplished all three in a remarkable fashion.
A native of West Point, NY, Dr. Cagle was raised in Novato, CA, while her father was stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base, and considers Marin County as her hometown. She graduated from Novato High School before attending SFSU. Dr. Cagle earned her doctorate in medicine from the University of Washington in 1985 and completed residency in family practice at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force reserve, Dr. Cagle is certified as a flight surgeon and a senior aviation medical examiner. From 1994 until 1996, she served as a physician in the Johnson Space Center’s Occupational Health Clinic before being selected for the astronaut-training program, which she completed in 1998. Cagle is one of four African-American women to qualify for NASA space flight and will be serve as a mission specialist.
In choosing SFSU as her undergraduate school, Dr. Cagle considered the university’s international reputation and the broad diversity on campus both in faculty and students. So, in addition to broadening her educational experience, SFSU and its location in a multi-cultural, international city, introduced her to the wide variety of industries where she toured companies and talk to scientists about their careers and specialties. As a student in the College of Engineer and biochemistry department, she took advantage of the connections faculty has made over the years in the industrial community. One advantage of these connections was the opportunity to learn first hand from a number of industry leaders about some of the real world applications and challenges through guest lectures.
Cagle believes her education at SFSU prepared her very well for her future career choices because of the rigor associated with the science courses. Intensive immersion into science and math courses gave her the opportunity to hold her study and discipline skills, which she was able to use in her varied career. Key to the learning experience was SFSU’s faculty who helped make the subjects interesting and relevant.
Like so many students, Cagle was fortunate to have Naomi Nmerole, an SFSU Nursing professor, as one of her mentors. Cagle recalled that professor Nmerole volunteered to go to Africa to provide nursing care in areas where care was desperately needed. Unfortunately, Nmerole contracted Maleria and died. Her death had a profound impact on Cagle and she began to think about remote medicine and practicing in areas where new medical technologies were not available. Cagle’s mentor taught her that teaching is not just something that should stay in a classroom, but rather, that what is learned should be shared with all who might benefit.
For Cagle, life at SFSU was not always centered around classes and study. She was often found in the Theater Arts building, listening to a musician practice, or watching a recital of a theater production. The close, urban environment of SFSU was definitely and advantage.
In giving advice to those who want to pursue a career in the medical and space fields, Cagle stresses the importance of building the tools as early as possible, as early as middle grade, but definitely in high school. Students should take as many math and science courses as possible to lay the foundation for college’s higher level. The importance of a well-rounded education should not be lost, however, as Cagle strongly believes that scientific study should be balanced by the humanities. Knowing what your goals are is critical to making yourself available as opportunities are presented. Cagle’s family played key roles in helping her achieve her goals.
In May 1999, Cagle was honored as the Alumna of the Year. The event was a ‘coming home” for her and as the keynote speaker, she dared the 6,646-member Class of 1999 to reach for the stars. “San Francisco State is the place where we began building our dreams and pursuing visions of opportunities,” said Cagle, “so hitch your wagon to a star and reach deep for the hero within.”
Cagle hitched her wagon to a star when she decided she wanted to be an astronaut. “I was nine years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon,” Dr. Cagle recalled. “Suddenly, the moon didn’t seem so far away – it was in my living room, within arm’s reach. It was at that point that I wanted to find my way to venture into space, to leave my imprint and to see what the view looks like from the moon.”
Dr. Cagle has certainly left her imprint on Earth, especially at San Francisco State University. One of her former teachers, Prof. Daniel Buttlaire, chemistry and biochemistry, now associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, says, “I was very impressed with her outstanding potential for a career in medicine, and I strongly supported her application for admission to medical school. There was no doubt in my mind at that time that Yvonne clearly was going to be a success in any field, and she could have chosen from many. It was obvious to me that she had all the prerequisite attributes – intelligence, drive, dedication, character, enthusiasm, maturity, warmth, and willingness to work very hard to succeed – to achieve her career goals. We're all very proud that she came from our department, our college, our University.”
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