Meet Daria Sharko

Daria Sharko left Russia to escape a repressive education system that offered her no opportunity to pursue her goals. At MiraCosta College, Daria is confident her dreams can become a reality.

“I started to believe in a better future here,” Sharko explains. “I always had dreams, but now they are bigger and bolder—and now I believe they can come true. That’s what MiraCosta helped me to understand.”

Sharko is the first international student to participate in MiraCosta’s groundbreaking program offering a bachelor’s degree in biomanufacturing. MiraCosta is one of 15 community colleges in California to offer a bachelor’s degrees to their students.

Sharko grew up in the Russian port city of Novorossiysk, where she observed that students were humiliated and punished by their teachers. Sharko saw little hope of pursuing her interest in biology there. When she came to San Diego County with her husband in June 2016, she started taking classes at MiraCosta College because her brother-in-law was studying there.

At MiraCosta, Sharko found an atmosphere where students were supported and treated with respect, far different from what she had experienced in Russia. Falling in love with California, Sharko and her husband decided to remain here while both pursued their education.

They eventually intended to return to their home in Russia, but the invasion of Ukraine has changed those plans. Sharko’s home is near the Ukraine border, and she has had limited contact with her family as the Russian government shuts down social media and other communication channels. “We are lost. We do not know what to do,” says Daria. “We do not share in the regime. We are completely against this war.”

Skarko said her family in Russia is struggling financially because of the economic sanctions placed against the country and she is no longer able to send them money. Many people in Russia are largely unaware of the war because Russian authorities prohibit news about the fighting. “America changed my vision of the world and freedoms,” Sharko said. “I can’t find a common language with my Russian family. I’m very concerned. I wish they were here.”

Sharko said that at first, she felt ashamed because her home country had started the war, but her friends and colleagues at the college convinced her to feel otherwise. “At MiraCosta, everybody is so compassionate. They are so supportive and understanding. They had to persuade me that I was not to blame. They helped me to accept the situation.”

Against the backdrop of her constant concern about her family and country, Daria is continuing to pursue her studies in the biomanufacturing program and plans to graduate in spring 2023.

Sharko is one of 18 students currently enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program and explains how all the students have become close as they study together. She appreciates the chance that the program offers to learn about the many aspects of the industry. “The program is fantastic. It’s more than I ever expected to have,” she said. “It’s really unique, and we can try anything to help decide what we like.”

Sharko received unwavering support from the faculty and staff at MiraCosta College, particularly the International Student Office; Mike Fino, dean of math and science; Barbara Juncosa, chair of the biomanufacturing bachelor’s degree program; and instructors Paula Toto, Pedro Morgado, and Dominique Ingato. “I’m so grateful for all they have done for me and supported me,” shared Sharko.

While at MiraCosta, Sharko learned that her mother had breast cancer, but she was unable to return home because of visa issues. She helped pay for her mother’s chemotherapy and surgeries but saw how the disease and treatments ravaged her mother’s health.

Sharko ultimately hopes to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical research and discover treatments for cancer that have fewer side effects than current therapies, like what her mother underwent during her bout with cancer.

Sharko owes her bright future to her experience at MiraCosta College. “The mental growth I experienced at MiraCosta affected all aspects of my life. The new version of me is stronger, and I hope wiser. I started to believe I can change something.”