Hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” at her own college graduation is nothing new for Kareena Garza. She’s one of a fortunate few who, at just 21 years old, has had the privilege of crossing a college graduation stage twice already. Her first time was just three years ago as part of the second class of South Texas College’s Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy. And in May 2011 she graduated again, this time with honors from The University of Texas-Pan American.
“It was a long hard road that got me where I am today,” Garza expressed. “It wasn’t easy, but I feel like if I can do it, anyone with the determination and motivation can go for it.”
In just its second year of operation, Garza took a leap of faith and applied to be part of STC’s Starr County Campus DEMSA in 2006.
“It was a new program and we didn’t know too much about it, other than that we would take college classes and get ahead in school, but we also knew that it might lead to some great opportunities so I decided to go for it,” she explained. “Even though I knew I would be taking college classes along with a full load of high school classes, I decided not to give up my extracurricular activities and I kept up with band, cheerleading, track and student council, and served as an officer during my senior year.
“At first, there were times I wanted to give up because it seemed like it was all too much. And some people even told me to just quit or that I would fail, but those moments would motivate me even more to work hard and stick with it,” she continued. “In the end, the coursework at STC prepared me well for all that I would face at UTPA. I graduated with a 4.0 from STC’s DEMSA and that was a big achievement, making it even sweeter to earn my associate’s degree in biology from the college just a couple weeks before receiving my high school diplomas from Rio Grande City High School.”
Once she graduated from STC, Garza wasted no time and enrolled at UTPA, where she declared a major in biology and minors in chemistry and psychology. She was an active participant in the college’s Pre-Medical Society and Chemistry Club, holding officer positions with both organizations, as well as serving as a chemistry lab teaching assistant. She also sought out opportunities to learn more about the medical profession, which has led to jobs at local doctors’ offices.
“I feel that you can’t just sit back and wait for opportunities to come to you,” she explained. “You have to always challenge yourself to take on more and try new things. I want to work in the medical field and so I went through an amazing summer program, the Medical Careers Diversity Program through The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston during my first year at UTPA. It allowed me to job shadow medical professionals and take upper level biology courses.
“I later secured a job with a physical therapist in Edinburg and then a position with an OB/Gyn clinic, where I learned about interacting with patients, taking histories and vitals and medical office management, all skills and knowledge you don’t get in an undergrad biology class,” she said. “But STC’s DEMSA gave me the maturity and courage to seek out these kinds of opportunities.”
Garza is slated to hear “Pomp and Circumstance” at least one more time as a graduate, when she finishes her schooling to become a physician’s assistant.
“I was one of a lucky few selected for UTPA’s Physician Assistant Studies Program and its very exciting to know I will graduate again in two and a half years,” Garza said. “Beyond that, I might end up in an emergency medicine residency or pursue a doctorate. That part of my life isn’t determined yet. But what I do know is that I want to come back and work in the Valley one day and give back to my community.”
And she wants to start giving back now with a few words of wisdom to students thinking about pursuing a career in medicine.
“If you have it in you to pursue this path, you can do it, but you have to be willing to work hard,” she concluded. “You have to be willing to explore and know that exploration matures you; you discover new things, especially independence, which is key to success in the medical field. If you really want something, go get it. Also, be sure to pursue those extracurricular activities outside the classroom like internships, jobs and learning programs. It will strengthen your skills and in turn your application to universities. That’s something else I learned in DEMSA.”
For additional information about STC’s Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy call 956-872-3499 or 956-872-2607.