In May Alena was offered a place at the University of Alabama’s Heersink School of Medicine for 2024 through its Early Assurance Program, which offers early admission to applicants who meet certain requirements. Alena is more than 10 years younger than the average medical student.
“What is age?” said Alena, who lives just outside of Fort Worth and completes most of her courses online. “You’re not too young to do anything. I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I can do anything I put my heart and mind into.”
When Alena was 3 years old, her mother noticed that she was anything but a typical toddler.
“Alena was gifted,” said her mother, Daphne McQuarter. “It was just how she did things and how advanced she was. She read chapter books.”
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Alena said that she found it easy to learn new skills, and when she started school, she was sometimes mocked for her academic talent.
“There was a little boy who bullied me and he would tease me and call me ‘smartass,'” Alena recalls, adding that her mother decided to homeschool her for several years after the bullying started would have.
In fifth grade, she switched back to traditional schooling, but continued to take advanced high school-level courses at home, following a curriculum her mother had created. During the pandemic, Alena decided to stretch her course load even further.
Algebra was easy for Alena. Geometry was intuitive. Biology was child’s play.
“I was bored,” said Alena, who recently started using her middle name, Analeigh, as her last name. “The schoolwork was so easy for me that I did my Abitur at the age of 12.”
Taking tutoring, Alena said, is more of a pleasure than a pain. She flew through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. As far as the schoolwork went, none of it was a struggle.
“I love school, I love to study, I love to read,” Alena said, adding that from a young age she had a particular interest in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.
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In addition to her dedication to her schoolwork, Alena is also an aspiring entrepreneur and philanthropist. About a year and a half ago, she founded the Brown STEM Girl – an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for girls of color interested in a career in STEM.
According to the National Science Board, women make up 28 percent of the science and technology workforce, and of those, only about 5 percent are women of color. Alena is on a mission to change that.
“We’re showing the world that there are other girls out there just like me and that they deserve an opportunity and a chance,” Alena said, explaining that her organization has a rigorous application process and offers financial grants, mentorship programs and more offers resources for outstanding students. There are more than 460 active members and about 2,000 girls on a waiting list, Alena said, adding that the organization is funded by private donations.
She wanted to create a platform where girls like her “feel like they belong somewhere,” she said. “I represent all the intelligent girls in the world.”
The Brown STEM Girl isn’t Alena’s first extracurricular endeavor. She has lectured for years, she said, and has received numerous honors and awards throughout her life. She was recently named one of Time’s finalists for Top Kid of 2022.
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While trying to keep up with friends and regular childhood activities, Alena has always remained focused on her academic and professional goals.
“I’m hungry and I want to learn, and I’ve always been,” Alena said.
She became NASA’s youngest intern in the summer of 2021 – which was a long-cherished dream.
Last year, Clayton Turner, the director of the agency’s Langley Research Center, stumbled across a message about Alena – then a 12-year-old going to college who was hoping to someday work at NASA. He decided to report.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Turner, who became Alena’s mentor and got her an internship at the agency, where she performed a variety of roles, including remote research for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, which she visits during her internship . “Alena is one of those extraordinary intellectuals.”
What really sets her apart, Turner said, is her heart.
“What’s in her is a desire to help others, to lift others up,” he said.
Although initially Alena was keen to pursue a career in engineering, after delving further into the field during her undergraduate studies, she decided to switch courses and study medicine.
“I wasted no time. I dropped a class, changed my major, and when I was taking my first biology class, I knew in that moment that I should do it,” she said.
Her goal is to help those in need with her medical studies.
“A big part of what I want to do is viral immunology, and I want to advocate for underrepresented communities that lack healthcare,” Alena said. “It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Her educators and advisors encouraged her to apply for early admission to medical school.
“They contributed enormously,” said Alena.
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One of those mentors is Elaine Vanterpool, chair of the biology department at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Although Alena takes most of her courses online, she has spent some time on campus completing labs.
“She has a lot of talent,” said Vanterpool, who taught Alena’s general biology class. As her professor: “I really saw the drive and determination. She did well. She has not settled for less than she knows what she is capable of.”
Vanterpool and other academic advisors encouraged Alena to apply to medical school, but she knew the chances of admission were slim — especially as a 13-year-old black girl. The average US medical school acceptance rate is 7 percent, and about 7 percent of those accepted are Black.
“Stats would have said I would never have made it,” Alena wrote in an Instagram post to her 18,000 followers about her recent admission to medical school.
A large part of her success, Alena said, was due to her mother.
“My mother is amazing. She gave me more opportunities than things,” said Alena, who has a 24-year-old sister. “She taught me to think and see beyond. For me that was the best experience.”
“We had such an amazing relationship because I’ve always given her the space to be a kid, to grow, to make mistakes, and to learn,” McQuarter said. “She knew she always had a voice in everything, including her education.”
People often tell Alena that she grows up too fast. To which she replies, “I don’t think I miss any part of my childhood. I get a childhood and it’s amazing.”
In her free time, Alena plays sports – including soccer and track and field – and likes to go to the arcade with friends. She also enjoys singing, cooking and travelling.
By nurturing her academic and professional aspirations early on, Alena hopes to serve as an inspiration to others and to prove that a person’s age shouldn’t stand in the way of their success.
“I would say to any little girl out there reading this: never give up, never let anyone tell you you can’t do something,” Alena said.
She is expected to complete her two bachelor’s degrees in the spring of 2024 and begin her medical studies in the fall.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I have a huge support system around me that pushes me and cheers me on,” said Alena.
Meanwhile, she plans to continue to advocate for other young people who are full of untapped potential.
“It feels great to be able to create a path for girls who look like me,” Alena said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you no.”
A previous version of this story stated that Alena is a published author. The line was removed at her mother’s request.
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https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/07/20/alena-analeigh-wicker-college-stem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_national Alena Analeigh Wicker, 13, just got accepted to medical school