Alena McQuarter was accepted into medical school at 13; she is now creating pathways for girls in STEM

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 8, 2024 6:34 AM EDT
Alena Analeigh McQuarter. Photo credit: Alena Analeigh McQuarter

Alena Analeigh McQuarter doesn’t think of herself as special but as someone who envisages different possibilities. At only 13, she made history as the youngest African American to get accepted into medical school and the second-youngest person to be accepted overall. Through her foundation, Alena is creating pathways for girls in STEM to access gainful opportunities.

“Statistics would have said I never would have made it. A little black girl adopted from Fontana, California. I’ve worked so hard to reach my goals and live my dreams. Mama I made it,” Alena said about the unlikely journey to her remarkable feat.

Having a supportive family unit helped Alena achieve her record-breaking early start to a collegiate career. She was adopted as an infant from Fontana, California and grew up in North Texas. Alena was exceptional from the start and was already reading regular textbooks by age 3.

But being brilliant came with its downsides.

Alena was picked on by her classmates and was even told by the principal that she couldn’t get all A’s because of her skin color. Their ridicule hurt and motivated her to prove them wrong by excelling more. Her mother pulled her out of regular school at seven and homeschooled her. Alena was provided with freedom of expression and an appropriate environment to nurture her abilities. She shamed her detractors and finished her high school education by age 12.

Alena’s mother noticed her obsession with space and encouraged it by giving her various space and science experiences. She went from learning about stars and space and playing with LEGOs to visiting astronomy nights and NASA Centers. Alena made history by becoming the youngest person ever to work as an intern at NASA. She then enrolled in two undergraduate programs at Arizona State University and Oakwood University with a career as a NASA engineer in hindsight.

“I don’t want to say I was different. I was just thinking about the different possibilities of what I could do. And, when it came to education, I was like, ‘why not move forward if I have the chance to do so?’ I think I was just thinking bigger or going and doing the things that no one else had done before,” Alena said about how she achieved her dreams.

She initially double-majored in astronomical and planetary science and chemistry but soon realized she wasn’t cut out for engineering. Alena became interested in viral immunology following a trip to Jordan and switched her major to pre-med. She loved her first biology class and the corresponding lessons on health care, cancer biology, the immune system and immunology. Alena graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s in biological and biomedical sciences at the end of last year.

In 2022, Alena made history as the youngest African American to get accepted into medical school and the second-youngest person to be accepted into medical school overall. She was accepted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heersink School of Medicine through the Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program at only 13. The program partners with HBCUs across Alabama to offer early acceptance to students planning to enter medical school. Alena accepted the offer and is on track to graduate from medical school by the time she’s 18. She is currently pursuing a master’s in biology/biological sciences from Arizona State University.

In addition to her remarkable academic feats, Alena Analeigh has established The Brown STEM Girl, a foundation to give STEM opportunities to girls of color. The foundation partners with schools to give scholarships to girls of color. It provides internships, and mentorships and creates spaces for girls globally to explore their interest in STEM. Alena also shares her story of how she made her dreams come true to inspire other girls.

“We have girls who just want to come together and see other girls of color, just like them, who also want to go into the STEM field, also being able to take them around the world, plan trips so they can go places. I just want to inspire girls to keep going and follow their dreams,” Alena on her vision for The Brown STEM Girl.

Pioneering women such as Dr. Mae Jemison to Katherine Johnson fuel Alena’s drive to become a changemaker. Their stories motivate her to inspire others and create a space for the next generation. Alena spent the summer of 2023 researching ovarian cancer at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award’s lifetime achievement award. Alena hopes to become a viral immunologist and serve communities.