After graduating from high school at the age of 12 and becoming the youngest Black student to be accepted to medical school a year later, Alena Wicker garnered widespread attention. Now, at 14, the Texas native is set to graduate from Arizona State University (ASU).
Wicker was given a full scholarship in 2021 as a result of a collaboration between Arizona State University, the Phoenix Mercury, and Desert Financial Credit Union. This allowed her to continue her studies without having to worry about money, according to ASU News.
She enrolled in the engineering program when she first arrived at ASU, hoping to one day work for NASA. She did, however, decide to switch her major after taking one biology class. She will graduate from college in a few months. Currently a senior at Arizona State University, Wicker will get a bachelor’s degree in biomedical biological sciences with a minor in global health in December. Her master’s degree in biological sciences is anticipated to be awarded in May.
Wicker noted that one reason she strives so hard to motivate others is that she once experienced discouragement from an adult. She shared that when she was in the fifth grade, the principal of her school—also a person of color—told her that young women of color can’t pass state exams or earn good grades.
“I really wanted to show her that I can get good grades and I can go on and do amazing things. So I’m proving that,” Wicker told USA TODAY.
The teen also established Brown STEMGirl, a group for females of color who desire to major in STEM fields. “I’ve always tried to prove that girls of color can do what they put their minds to,” she said. “Being able to graduate at the age of 12 from high school and going into college, I just want to inspire other girls to follow their dreams.”
Wicker and her mother, Daphne McQuarter, are keen that she doesn’t lose out on the fun of being a kid despite the unconventional path of her schooling. She participates in choir, track and field, and soccer, and hangs out with peers her own age.
Recently, Wicker worked in Dr. Tonya Webb’s lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she was mentored.
“She contributed to the lab, the atmosphere,” Webb revealed to USA TODAY. “Everyone’s in there working but she’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ That excitement and enthusiasm and the questions. The lab ended up treating her like their younger sibling.” The teen also joined a project involving ovarian cancer where she proved her prowess in research by producing what Dr. Webb called “amazing” findings.
Wicker was accepted to the University of Alabama’s Heersink School of Medicine to pursue a medical degree, but she said that her interests lie more in research. She is considering applying somewhere else to get a doctorate in viral immunology with a concentration on infectious diseases.
“That’s the big decision because that’s what will determine what I will be doing in my career,” she said. “I’m thinking of going toward the Ph.D. route because I love getting out there, discovering new things, being in the lab, finding cures for viruses or even connecting with medicine in other parts of the world,” said the teen who has been in love with science she was five years old.