She went to college at 12. At 13, she may be youngest African American accepted to med school

What's Happening
Alison Steinbach
 

| Arizona Republic

Alena Analeigh started college at Arizona State University last year at age 12.

Now 13, she’s already secured her next move – into medical school.

“I’m just happy and I’m living my dreams,” she said. “I’m doing what I love to do.”

The Texas resident said she’s the youngest African American person to get into a U.S. medical school, and the second-youngest person overall.

Analeigh was admitted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine’s early acceptance program and plans to start there in 2024. That program provides early admissions and opportunities during college as students prepare to enroll.

The application was “super stressful,” she said, with an interview, personal statement and long process, but she’s grateful to be admitted.

“If I could say anything to another little girl that looks like me: never stop believing, don’t give up on your dreams just because somebody tells you ‘no.’ And even if it seems impossible, it’s not impossible, and I’m proof that you can do anything that you put your mind and your heart to,” she said in an interview.

A shift from studying space to medicine

Analeigh began online classes at ASU last year, studying engineering with a desire to work for NASA. But she quickly realized she preferred medicine.

She switched her major to biological sciences and is continuing with online courses, including taking genetics and history of medicine this summer. She expects to be on campus in Arizona next summer for labs.

“I’ve had amazing instructors. I love the classes that I’m in,” she said. “I like that the classes are six or seven weeks and then you move on to the next class. It can be super stressful, depending on the type of class that you’re in, but I like them.”

Analeigh said she was recently accepted into ASU’s Barrett honors college for online students. She also studies at Oakwood University in Alabama. She did two years of college in one year by doubling up on classes at the two schools, she said.

She plans to finish college by early 2024 and begin medical school later that year. If all goes according to plan, she’ll start studying to become a doctor at age 15 and graduate when she’s 18.  

Not surprisingly, she already knows what kind of medicine she wants to practice.

“I want to be a viral immunologist, which is the study of viruses, and I’ll probably go into primary care,” she said. “I have a huge heart and passion for my community and for advocating for health care for underrepresented communities and communities of color.”

‘I wanted to show the world’

Analeigh was mostly homeschooled, including for a time abroad in Jordan. She spent some time in traditional school, but said she left after a principal questioned her perfect test scores due to her race.

She spoke at the ASU+GSV Summit last summer about her efforts to get more girls of color involved in science, technology, engineering and math. She founded an organization called Brown STEM Girl that coordinates scholarships for minority students and opportunities for women of color.

“I had a lot of doors closed in my face and I didn’t have people advocating for me. I had to figure things out myself,” she said, adding that one key NASA mentor took a chance on her and helped her get an internship there.

“I wanted to show the world, I wanted to show other girls that look like me, that it is possible, and if you don’t fight for you, no one’s going to fight for you. So every ‘no’ that I got, it was fine for me. I just fought even harder to find a way to get that ‘yes.’”

Analeigh was one of 10 young Black women on the cover of a special edition of Ebony earlier this year highlighting “STEM Queens.” She was the youngest in the group by five years.

But she said she doesn’t really think about always being the youngest – “I’m just living my dreams” – and still has time to be a kid.

“I was in honors choir, I was in cheerleading, I play soccer. I hang out at the mall with my friends like a 13-year-old does, and I go to the movies with my friends, I go swimming with my friends. I’m very structured and very disciplined.

“Age for me, it’s not a big deal.”

Contact Alison Steinbach at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @alisteinbach.