Making Med School Happen
‘Extraordinary’ Alumnus Bound for A&M
For first-generation student and STC grad Alan Babuji, STC’s DEMSA program has put him on the fast track to a pre-med pathway, and has ultimately paved the way to Texas A&M’s College of Medicine.
The medical field is home to some of the most rewarding jobs imaginable, but for most students, med school has traditionally been off-limits. In fact, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, about 75 percent of medical students come from the top two income groups – a distribution that hasn’t changed in three decades.
With its Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA), South Texas College is making a commitment to leveling the playing field for future health care heroes like Alan Babuji. For the first-generation student and STC grad, DEMSA made the difference early on, putting him on the fast track to a pre-med pathway and ultimately paving the way to Texas A&M College of Medicine.
“Getting two years done of college, that’s a game-changer,” says Babuji about his unique high school experience with STC. The South Texas ISD Science Academy grad was determined to become a physician after volunteering at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. When STC made it possible to earn an Associate of Science in Biology while still in high school — not to mention the free tuition, fees and books — Babuji jumped at the chance.
“If you are motivated and know exactly what you want to do in your life, then this program can definitely bridge that and help you get there a lot faster,” says the aspiring surgeon.
Babuji applied to the DEMSA program in his sophomore year, successfully navigating a highly selective, competitive process. For two years, he was a full-time high school and college student, earning his associate in 2018, just weeks before graduating high school. From there, he transferred to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and though he’s slated to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in just a few weeks, he’s not done achieving. In fact, Babuji is about to sign a lease for his first apartment in College Station, where he’ll begin medical school in the fall.
“I’ve never lived away from my family, so it’s a brand-new stage of my life,” shares Babuji, who admits to feeling excited, proud and a little bit nervous all at the same time.
Acceptance to Texas A&M represents a huge, barrier-breaking achievement for RGV students like Babuji. Medical school is highly competitive, bearing a comparatively low national acceptance rate of 43 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. But for Babuji’s advisors, there was never any doubt that he would make the cut.
“When he let me know that he had been accepted to medical school, it really wasn't a surprise to me because of his hard work and dedication,” recalls Leonardo Castañeda, Director of Academies & High School Projects. “It's something extraordinary when a student stands out among exceptional students, and I think that's what Alan was.”
“If you are motivated and know exactly what you want to do in your life, then this program can definitely bridge that and help you get there a lot faster.”
According to the director, almost all of the learners in the program are first-generation college students like Babuji. STC’s four dual-credit options allow high schoolers to pursue their educational goals at no cost while benefitting from high-touch support.
“We’re trying to create a college-going environment,” explains Castañeda. He says the Dual Credit program “gives them the opportunity to get to those higher degrees or to that profession that much sooner.” Plus, thanks to the early exposure to college culture, when students transfer to university, he says, “It’s not [their] first rodeo.”
Since 2000, STC’s Dual Credit programs have saved families more than $200 million. In fact, the College hosts one of the most extensive Dual Credit programs in the state, partnering with 70 high schools across the Valley, and is the first in the State of Texas to receive National Accreditation from the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.
“Our vision is that college is for everyone,” says Dr. Rebecca De Leon, Dean for Dual Credit Programs & School District Partnerships. De Leon is herself an STC Dual Credit alumna and has been a proponent ever since: “The DEMSA program began in 2005, and it’s amazing to see how it has grown throughout the years.”
DEMSA is where many students turn to earn MDs at very young ages, and it’s considered among the most rigorous dual-credit pathways. The program boasts a perfect, 100-percent transfer rate in addition to a retention rate in the 90th percentile. The success rates are unsurprising, as program staff guide learners every step of the way, getting to know students personally throughout the two years as they complete the challenging coursework.
“It's a commitment,” says De Leon. “Our DEMSA students are focused on their studies since they are enrolled in a full load of classes, both college and high school.”
Babuji is thankful for the high-touch support, which he said was crucial for getting through his studies.
“The pressure was there, the intensity was there,” recalls the alumnus. From organic chemistry to high-level math, Babuji had to pull out all of the stops. “You will get the results if you put in the hard work and effort.”
And Babuji invested considerable effort. Monday through Thursday, he would complete his high school classes in the morning, then take the bus to STC’s Mid-Valley Campus for his college-level courses. Fridays were dedicated to professional development workshops and college tours that helped him prepare for university. Not a minute was wasted, according to the alumnus, with even the bus rides providing a window to keep up with classwork.
Amid the sweat and tears, though, Babuji says there were sweet moments, too. He still fondly remembers teachers who would go the extra mile … and sometimes, the extra scoop.
Like one chaotic week, in which college applications, finals and SATs all coincided, creating the perfect storm of stress for Babuji and his cohort. That’s when one microbiology teacher declared it a mental health day and bought the class ice cream in lieu of lecture.
“It was a brutal time, but luckily, we had some ice cream to cure us,” Babuji recalls.
Another big scoop? STC’s Center of Learning Excellence, he says, provided a sizable advantage with its variety of free student support services.
“There would be a couple of tutors just tackling us down to try and help us out,” Babuji recalls.
The experience made a lasting impression. Upon graduating high school, he would work part-time as a math and science tutor at STC while studying at UTRGV’s Edinburg Campus. Not surprisingly, his favorite moments were when chemistry-confounded DEMSA students would come in for help.
“We would just hit it off,” recalls the proud tutor and mentor. “They would ask me advice not just related to academics but also, ‘What’s college like?’”
Now, with his bachelor’s degree just a few weeks away, Babuji says it’s incredible to see how far he’s come. “Never in my life did I think I would be at this point.” Between polishing off his undergrad in three years and getting into medical school, things have been a little “crazy,” he says, but it’s nevertheless a “great feeling.”
Babuji knows the road to becoming a doctor is a long one. That’s why he’s so thankful for the two-year head start he got at STC, and why he’ll never stop paying it forward:
“Now the journey continues, and hopefully, I can be the next mentor to a lot of these students who are trying to do the same thing.”