Getting into medical school is a life-long goal for many people but Alena Analeigh Wicker is getting an early start. She was recently offered a spot in the Early Assurance Program, which offers early admission to applicants who meet specific requirements, at the University of Alabama’s Heersink School of Medicine for 2024.
Despite her impressive academic credentials, Alena maintains that she is just like other girls her age. She likes going to the movies, playing soccer, and hanging out with her friends.
“I’m still a normal 13-year-old,” said Alena, a student at both Arizona State University and Oakwood University, where she is simultaneously earning two separate undergraduate degrees in biological sciences. “I just have extremely good time management skills and I’m very disciplined.”
Her mom, Daphne McQuarter, noticed her advanced learning skills when she was just three years old.
“Alena was gifted,” McQuarter said. “It was just how she did things and how advanced she was. She was reading chapter books.”
Alena currently lives outside Fort Worth, TX, where she is completing most of her courses online.
“You’re not too young to do anything. I feel like I have proven to myself that I can do anything that I put my heart and mind to,” she said.
She admitted that when she was younger some of her classmates started bullying her because of her intelligence.
“There was a little boy that bullied me, and he would tease me and call me ‘smarty pants,’” she recalled. Her mother finally decided to home-school her because of the bullying.
Alena went back to in-person learning in the fifth grade while she continued to take advanced high school-level courses at home, using a special curriculum her mother created.
When the pandemic hit, she decided to push herself even further. She breezed through required subjects like algebra, geometry, and biology.
“I was bored,” said Alena, who recently started using her middle name, Analeigh, as her surname. “The high school work was so easy for me that I ended up graduating from high school at 12 years old.”
She didn’t mind all the extra work. She enjoyed learning new things when she wasn’t in school.
“I love school, I love learning, I love reading,” she said. Her favorite subject: STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math.
If getting into medical school wasn’t enough, Alena is also a budding entrepreneur and philanthropist. About a year and a half ago, she created Brown STEM Girl, an organization to increase learning opportunities for girls of color interested in working in these industries.
In the science and engineering industries, women account for just 28% of all workers and women of color make up about 5%, but Alena is on a mission to change that.
Her organization offers financial scholarships, mentorship programs, and additional resources to young girls of color that excel in school.
“We’re showing the world that there’s other girls out there that are just like me, and they deserve an opportunity and a chance,” Alena explained. There are currently more than 460 active members and about 2,000 girls on the waiting list, Alena said, adding that the organization is funded through private donations.
Her dream is to create a platform where girls of color interested in technology and science can “feel like they belong somewhere,” she said. “I represent all the brainiac girls in the world.”
As the face of the organization, Alena has been speaking publicly on the issue for years. She has received numerous awards and honors during her career and was even named one of Time’s Top Kid of the Year Finalists for 2022.
She tries to maintain a balance between studying and having a personal life, but she remains focused on completing her education.
“I have a hunger and desire to learn, and that’s just always been me,” said Alena.
As an undergraduate student, she recently decided to change her major from science to medicine.
“I wasted no time. I dropped a class, changed my major, and when I took my first biological class, I knew in that moment that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.
She plans on using her medical degree to help others in need.
“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 that I’ve become passionate about.”
Her professors encouraged her to apply for the early acceptance program, and Alena said they have been instrumental in helping her prepare.
“She has a lot of talent,” said Elaine Vanterpool, chair of the biology department at Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL. As her professor, “I really saw the drive and grit. She did well. She didn’t settle for less than what she knows she’s capable of.”
She credits her success to her mother, who has helped her every step of the way.
“My mom is amazing. She gave me opportunities more than things,” said Alena. “She taught me to think beyond and see beyond. For me, that was the best experience.”
“We’ve had such an amazing relationship because I always gave her the space to be a kid, grow, make mistakes and learn,” said McQuarter. “She knew she always had a voice in anything, including her education.”
Some people tell Alena she’s growing up too fast. Her response: “I don’t think I’m missing any part of my childhood. I get a childhood, and it’s amazing.”
Alena is on track to complete her two undergraduate degrees by the spring of 2024. She will then start medical school 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,” Alena said.