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Defying the odds

Markus with her group capstone projectMarkus with her group capstone project at the department's 2019 Research & Design Day.Although engineering is a challenging curriculum, it’s not the biggest obstacle soon-to-be mechanical engineering graduate Taysa Markus has faced. Markus is many things—a non-traditional student, a loving single mother and a fighter. Most of all, she’s an inspiration.

Her story began in 1975 in war-torn Vietnam. As North Vietnam took over the country, Markus’ family was pulled in different directions. Her father, a naval major in the South Vietnamese army, was put into a labor camp, where he remained for over 12 years. Her mother traveled a long distance to Saigon for work, staying in the city for a month at a time, before visiting home for just a few days. Meanwhile, her grandmother worked constantly to provide for the family.

Markus grew up with little resources for her education—no books, internet or libraries and very limited school supplies. Despite this, her father believed strongly in the importance of education. He returned from the camp when Markus was 16. By the time she was 19, the entire family had immigrated to the United States via the Humanitarian Resettlement Program.

She described her move as a blessing, “I would not have dreamed that I would receive higher education.”

Encouraged by her father, she decided to pursue a college education at Columbus State Community College. In 1997, she finished her associate’s Markus, far right, with her parents and two brothers after immigrating to the U.S.Markus, far right, with her parents and two brothers after immigrating to the U.S.degree at Miami University and got married. With her limited educational start in Vietnam and her difficulties with English, she found herself unable to complete a four-year degree at the time.

Markus entered the 2000s with a fair share of hardships. Her father was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007. Her marriage was deteriorating and she felt her husband was a negative influence both on her and her two young sons. In 2010, she left Cincinnati and returned to Columbus with her children. Her father passed away shortly after and a divorce soon followed. Now a single mother, she decided to return to school.

Her own advice helped motivate her: “You have to have a drive,” she said. “When times get difficult, you must have a desire to keep going and succeed. You must show commitment to your work.”

Becoming a Buckeye

After Markus’ family arrived in the United States, her father attended Columbus State and received an associate’s degree in electrical engineering. At the age of almost 60, he returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State. Again inspired by her father, Markus turned to Ohio State for her own education.

“I followed his footsteps to show my children that even if you are divorced or children of a single mom, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to be your best,” said Markus.

"You decide who you want to be and how high you want to reach.”

Pursuing an engineering degree as a nontraditional student proved to be no easy feat. Along with her studies, Markus worked hard to help her children succeed in school and maintain a loving household. Her days started at 2:00 a.m., when she did her classwork before getting her sons ready for the day. That was followed by attending classes, working part time, caring for her children and taking care of any other problems as they arose.

“I don’t always look at the big picture,” she shared. “When I have a lot of responsibilities, it helps to break them down into smaller tasks and figure out what needs to be done first.”

Now, as Markus prepares to graduate she feels well-prepared to be an engineer, thanks to Ohio State. She largely credits this success to her professors. They were willing to work with her and her busy schedule. Professors who taught with a positive, welcoming attitude and encouraged questions that opened her mind and increased her confidence in her abilities.

“Everyone is different, but you have to find your own way,” said Markus. “Learn from the past and move forward.”

Markus will graduate in May 2019. She feels positive that some good opportunities will come her way soon.

by Kari Fletcher, department communications intern