Scholar Spotlight

Five Minutes with Brenda

College: University of Massachusetts – Boston
Major: Biology (Science)
Year: 2015 Dell Scholar

What was your journey to the University of Massachusetts – Boston?

My journey to UMass Boston has been a particularly rough one. My grandma suffered a cardiac arrest when I was a sophomore in high school, leaving her bedridden with a severe neurodegenerative disease called Parkinson’s Disease. My grandfather, shortly after, had to undergo gall bladder removal that resulted in a surgical malpractice, leaving him disabled. Just before senior year, my father had passed away. These events had really changed the dynamics at home, calling for unprecedented responsibility. Choosing to attend UMass Boston not only allowed me to attend college at an affordable price, but also allowed me to stay home to help care for my family during this difficult time.


You have overcome a lot to be where you are now. How has this shaped your pursuit of a college degree?

As a first-generation student, there was an overwhelming amount of pressure to finish college on-time and to place in the top 20% of my graduating class. My journey has been anything but that as it has taken me five years to finish my degree. I forgot the importance of checking in with myself periodically and had neglected my mental well-being for an extended period of time.

As a result, my performance began to gradually decline in all of my classes. I figured that the best option for me was to withdraw from all of my classes and take a year off not only to pay an enormous sum of bills, but to primarily focus on healing. I had to accept that it was okay to finish college at my own pace.

During this time, I had spent 58 hours of my week working to pay off my financial debt. I was convinced that I did not exhibit the intellectual capacity needed to pursue my goals. I had developed serious doubts about my potential and my ability to finish college. Also, during this time, I was primarily involved in my grandfather’s medical malpractice lawsuit due to a language barrier that impaired his ability to understand. By the end of the trial, a settlement was reached. This was where I had rediscovered my determination of wanting to fight for the things that I was passionate about most.

I had decided that I was ready to finish my degree. Returning, I was determined to reignite the purpose that I had lost through self-doubt. Taking the year off has only validated my aspirations of wanting to further my education to pursue medicine.


Do you have advice for Scholars who might also be working through personal obstacles while simultaneously juggling the work of being a full-time student?

I would like to emphasize the importance of self-care and realizing when you need to step back to breathe and reassess your situation. Overcoming obstacles is a draining task, especially when it feels like you are being pulled in infinite directions. That is why it is important to maintain stamina so that you can continue to conquer. Rest and recovery are extremely important and contributes to overall attitude and performance.


You have participated in an internship. How was that experience?

I had the opportunity to participate in a research internship at Massachusetts General Hospital where I did research on anti-malarial drugs and their promising effect on tumor suppression in glioblastoma cells in vivo and in vitro in immunocompromised mice. I also had the opportunity to deliver my research results via PowerPoint and poster presentations. This was a rewarding experience that tested my confidence, understanding, and passion for science.


Were there any other experiences outside the classroom that stand out to you?

Having to work extensive hours while juggling the responsibilities of a full-time student has helped me solidify my skills pertaining to time management. Through my work as a pharmacy technician, I have learned and experienced first-hand the disparities in healthcare, insane insulin prices, lack of prescription coverage for medications that are deemed necessary, and health literacy. Attending a university that is rich in diversity with students from different countries and socioeconomic backgrounds and coming from a family whose primary language is not English has really shaped my perspective and values as an aspiring physician.


At this stage in your college experience, what are you most proud of accomplishing?

My transcript, though flawed, tells a story of being able to overcome extreme hardships, and that is what I find to be the most rewarding of my college experience. Numerous times I had doubted my intellect and my ability to fulfill my long-term goals of wanting to go to pursue medical school.


You plan to graduate here soon! Do you have any plans after gradation?

I am proud to announce that I am set to graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Cognitive Science! I plan to apply to a post-baccalaureate program to strengthen my medical school application before applying to medical school. During this time, I also plan to work my way up to becoming a specialty inpatient pharmacy technician liaison at Boston Medical Center to build on my clinical experience.


How has being a Scholar impacted you?

I am extremely honored to be a Dell Scholar. As a first-generation college student, it has been difficult utilizing my resources to thrive in this competitive atmosphere. This scholarship has really given me a chance to prove my potential.