Defying Expectations

Dawn Beattie

Dawn Beattie ’84

Dawn Beattie ’84 is used to defying expectations, whether it’s pursuing an engineering degree or buying a house in her 20s or fostering new interests after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in her 30s. Today, Dawn is an accomplished amateur photographer and birder, and she is the secretary and acting treasurer for The Morro Group, a nonprofit formed to recognize and honor peacekeepers and first responders who have stood in harm’s way to protect and serve America. But it took hard work to get there.

Dawn grew up just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Her parents, a school teacher and a stay-at-home mom, moved to South Pasadena when Dawn was young to ensure she and her brother had access to the best education. And while money was tight, Dawn made sure she took advantage of every opportunity. She was first chair flute in her junior high and high school band, but her favorite subject was math. Perhaps because of her parents’ encouragement — they gave her early learning workbooks — Dawn was always drawn to numbers.

“Algebra was always my favorite,” Dawn says. “It was like solving a puzzle, and I really like puzzles!”

After graduating in the top 10 percent of her high school class, Dawn had a decision to make. She had grown up a UCLA fan, but attending meant living at home. Instead, lured by the proximity to the ocean and convinced by a friend who had accepted admission, she enrolled at UC San Diego as a math major. But studying theory soon took a back seat to more of an applied math. Dawn changed her major to engineering.

“My scholarship gave me access to an education,” Dawn says. “Supporting scholarships can help give people opportunities to do things they might not otherwise be able to do, like I had.”

After graduation, Dawn was determined to be independent. She decided to purchase her own home. But it wasn’t easy. For five months, Dawn put most of each paycheck toward the down payment, but she still struggled to get approved for a loan. Ultimately, a serendipitous golfing encounter made all the difference.

“One day, I was golfing with a mortgage lender,” Dawn remembers. “I told him I needed a loan and he agreed to help me out. It took three quarters of my paycheck each month, but I thought the alternative was broken knee caps, so I made it work.”

But when she was in her 30s, everything changed. Despite being an active runner, skier, bicyclist and golfer, Dawn started having issues with coordination and balance. After an episode that landed her in the hospital, Dawn’s doctors ran a series of tests. Eventually, she had an answer: multiple sclerosis. Despite a proven track record at work, and training for leadership, she slowly saw her direct reports and responsibilities disappear. After several years of prompting from her doctors, Dawn left the workforce.

But an MS diagnosis didn’t slow her down. Dawn always loved learning new things. That passion drove her to complete an MBA at UC Irvine in 1992, and to get a certificate in wine and viticulture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It also inspired her to teach herself how to create webpages and write HTML — a skill she put to good use as the webmistress for the San Luis Obispo Camera Club. And although MS forced her to put many of those interests on hold, she continued to do puzzles of all kinds and remained connected to friends through games like Words with Friends. Now, new treatments have allowed her to gradually return to some of her hobbies.

“Medical research is creating miracles,” Dawn says. “That’s education. Those technologies are allowing me to move forward.”

Despite the many challenges she has faced, one lesson that Dawn has carried with her since childhood is the importance of giving back. “I remember my mom putting three individual dollar bills in an envelope and sending it to the Red Cross,” Dawn says. “As poor as I thought we were, I was often reminded there was always someone worse off.”

Today, Dawn supports a number of causes, including Chancellor’s Associates Scholarships at UC San Diego, and intends to create a scholarship for female engineering students through a legacy gift in her estate. She hopes that through her giving, now and in the future, she can ensure that students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a strong educational foundation are able to attend UC San Diego.

“My career excelled — and existed — due to my education, both my degrees and what I learned while earning them,” Dawn says. “Education is hugely important; education makes people bigger in good ways. I want to support a scholarship for someone like me who really wants to succeed, someone who is willing to do the heavy lifting and use what they learn as a stepping stone to better things.”