Music has always been one of Rosetta Sellers-Varela’s passions—she’s a professional freelance musician with a degree in music. Now, she’s back in school focusing on her other passion: biological sciences.

Rosetta’s love for science and her history with City Colleges of Chicago are both longstanding. She began her college journey studying biology at Western Illinois University (WIU). In 1995, During Rosetta’s sophomore year of college, she stayed home from WIU and took classes at Wilbur Wright College. When she returned to WIU—this time to get her degree in music education—the credits she earned at Wright saved her money and time.

Rosetta returned to City Colleges in 2009 but says life got in the way. She had four children and focused on her family and her music. She promised herself that once her youngest child was old enough to attend school full-time, she’d return to the classroom. Rosetta fulfilled that promise to herself—this time at Malcolm X College. In January 2022, Rosetta finished what she started, graduating with her Associate in Science.

“The biggest thing City Colleges has ever done for me is give me an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Rosetta said.

During Rosetta’s time at Malcolm X, she participated in the Advancing Opportunities for Women in STEM (AOWS) program, funded by the United States Department of Defense (DoD). It’s a program for women of color at Malcolm X who are pursuing their Associate in Science and are interested in a career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). AOWS connects students with internships and research opportunities, and it helps them sharpen their interview skills and to transfer to four-year universities.

“Representation matters,” Rosetta said. “You know, especially in the STEM fields, there are not a lot of women. Even if there are women, few are women of color.”

The courses at Malcolm X helped prepare Rosetta for the future. She’s now enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Parkside, where she’s pursuing a Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology and a grad certificate in Bioinformatics. Her ultimate goal is to work in cancer research and to help find the cure for cancer—proof of her desire to give back.

After graduation, Rosetta wants to start a nonprofit organization that encourages diversity, equity, and inclusion in cancer studies and offers counseling for participants and racial sensitivity training for researchers. She understands the importance of building a bridge between a skeptical community and the institutions conducting these studies.

“The scientific community cannot possibly come up with a solution unless they know how cancer impacts all types of people,” she said. “If science is really interested in finding solutions for problems, they need to make sure they are talking to everyone.”

Rosetta is so excited to now be doing two things that she loves: science and music. She wants those who are considering going back to school to know it’s never too late to chase your dreams.

“I think if there are older people considering going back to school and not knowing how they would be able to make it work or if it’s worth it, the biggest thing to know is that it’s never too late. Give it a shot. It’s financially feasible for you to do, especially at City Colleges,” she said.