MAGIC tutoring program helps UMass Lowell premed students realize medical school dreams – Lowell Sun
LOWELL — Without MAGIC, Jose Archila Quezada might have given up on his dream of becoming a doctor.
He struggled in some of his science classes his first semester at UMass Lowell, and he began to doubt that he’d ever have the GPA and test scores to get into medical school.
“I saw the other premed students as competition,” he said. “I felt like everyone was getting better grades and that was pushing me down.”
But his second semester, he signed up for a one-credit seminar on current issues in medicine, offered through UMass Lowell’s premed living-learning community and taught by Chemistry Associate Teaching Professor Khalilah Reddie. The students read and discussed articles, many of them dealing with ethics and health care.
“I took that seminar to remotivate myself and see if I really wanted to do medical school, and I decided that I really did,” he said.
For Reddie, who teaches multiple sections of Organic Chemistry, the seminar was preparation for a program that would provide chemistry tutoring and support to students from groups that are underrepresented in medicine, including Black, Hispanic and Southeast Asian American students.
Many are first-generation college students who come from school districts that don’t offer many advanced-placement science classes or prepare them well for the critical-thinking section of the Medical College Admission Test, Reddie said.
“These kids aren’t given a fair chance from the get-go,” Reddie said. “They are playing catch-up from the day they start college. Most of them are behind on every metric — reading, chemistry skills — but we can give them a fair shot. We can provide equity in their educational pathway.”
So with support from the Kennedy College of Sciences and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash, Reddie started the Medical Profession Admission Gap Initiative and Collaboration, or MAGIC, in fall 2019. Francine Coston, associate director of multicultural affairs, and Shontae Praileau, coordinator of college-based advising, helped Reddie to structure MAGIC and then identify incoming first-year students and rising sophomores who showed academic promise and a strong interest in pursuing medical and other health careers.
That fall, 40 first- and second-year students enrolled, including Archila Quezada. MAGIC provides twice-weekly tutoring in Chemistry I and II for first-year students and Organic Chemistry I and II for sophomores. The students also learn about the medical school admission process.
Archila Quezada, a Marlborough resident who had switched his major from biology to applied biomedical sciences, said MAGIC helped him stay on the premed track and do well in his classes. He also learned that medical schools are looking for patient care experience and interpersonal skills, not just grades and MCAT scores.
Most important, he stopped seeing other premed students as the competition.
“I don’t know if I would have passed Organic Chemistry without that tutoring, but the thing I got out of it most was the relationship with the kids in the group,” he said. “We studied with each other and checked in with each other. Through MAGIC, I saw we could help each other. That’s where I got a community.”
Biology major Shakira Fedna, who works as a pharmacy tech at CVS, has been accepted to UMass Medical School’s BaccMD program.
Fedna, an Everett native who was working as a pharmacy technician 40 hours a week, was tempted to drop biology and switch her major to public health. But she said Reddie encouraged her to stick with biology and to cut back on her work hours.
“I was working so much trying to pay for school that half the time I didn’t even know why I was doing what I was doing,” Fedna said. “But I went into biology because I love biology and I knew if I opted out of it, I’d be disappointed in myself. So I decided to stick with it.”
For some, MAGIC serves as preparation for another, similar program: the Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, which prepares UMass undergraduates who are financially disadvantaged, first-generation college students or from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in medicine for admission to UMass Medical School.
Students apply to the BaccMD program as sophomores. During MAGIC’s first year, three sophomores in the group, including Archila Quezada, applied — and all three were accepted. This year, three more — including Fedna — applied and got in.
BaccMD students attend residential summer programs and a monthly book group that introduce them to different medical specialties while preparing them for the MCAT through projects, physics instruction and seminar-style discussions.
This spring, all three students in the BaccMD program have won provisional acceptance to UMass Medical School, including Archila Quezada and chemistry major Benedicta Agyemang-Brantuo of Worcester.
“Professor Reddie wrote a letter of support for the BaccMD program. I really appreciated that,” Agyemang-Brantuo said. “And on the day we got accepted, she brought us cake and she was jumping up and down with us and celebrating. She goes above and beyond to support her students.”
Agyemang-Brantuo is now doing her part to support younger students. She works as a chemistry tutor for MAGIC, and last fall, she started a new student club, Advocates of Health Equity for Minorities. The club invites health care professionals as guest speakers and performs community service. The effort earned her the university’s 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award.
Archila Quezada, meanwhile, has pursued patient-care experience by earning his EMT license. He especially loves working with children and plans to become a pediatrician. Now, he’s working as an emergency room technician at UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital.
MAGIC, he said, went a long way to boost his self-confidence.
“I have the capability and the resources in front of me to pursue the challenging goal of being a doctor,” he said. “So why not me.”