(Photo: Courtesy of Alena Wicker)
At just 13 years old, Alena Analeigh Wicker is set to become the youngest Black medical student in US history, and the second-youngest person to be accepted into medical school overall. She is also the youngest person ever to work as a NASA intern.
In 2021, Alena was nominated for Forbes 30 Under 30. In early 2022, TIME and Nickelodeon named her a finalist in their “Kid of the Year” competition. The same year, she was awarded as a Global Child Prodigy of the World in Science.
In addition, AmeriCorps and Points of Light presented her with the President’s Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award for racking up over 5,000 hours of community service. But the teen insists that she is a normal 13-year-old girl. She said, “I just have extremely good time management skills.”
Alena grew up outside of Fort Worth, Texas, after being adopted from Fontana, California. She was primarily homeschooled by her mother, Dr. Daphne McQuarter. Alena said of her mom, “she always gave me opportunities over things.” Both mom and daughter are keen on experiences, and they like to travel.
Alena began reading chapter books when she was three years old, and she developed a love for LEGO the following year. Her favorite models to build were the space-themed sets including the Millennium Falcon, the Apollo 11 rover, and a NASA rocket. “She just had a gift for numbers and Lego and science so I started nurturing that gift,” said her mother Daphne.
Besides her passion for STEM activities such as robotics, science, and building things, Alena enjoys singing, running track, and cooking. She participates in typical teen pastimes like hanging out with friends, going to the mall, and watching movies.
Alena also loves Dr. Seuss, especially his book Oh The Places You’ll Go, one quote from which she says describes her perfectly: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Even as a gifted child who loved learning, Alena’s first experience in public school wasn’t a good one. Alena was bullied and teased by her classmates who called her “smartypants” and “brainiac.” She was also the victim of a racist comment from her principal.
“I was mostly homeschooled, but also did spend some time in traditional schools. In fact, I started in a regular school, but my mother pulled me out when I was seven because my principal told me that I couldn’t get all A’s because of my skin color,” Alana told Forbes in a 2021 interview. “It hurt, but it also made me determined. It convinced me that I could, and would, prove them wrong by getting all As.”
Alena is an advocate for “unschooling” — a form of homeschooling that puts less emphasis on formal lessons and curriculum, and instead relies on a child’s natural curiosity to delve into topics of interest at their own pace while exploring the world around them. For example, Alena spent some time living abroad in Amman, Jordan, which inspired her to learn Arabic and Spanish.
Alena returned to school in fifth grade, taking an advanced high school curriculum through dual enrollment college courses. After graduating high school at age 12, she was then able to complete her core undergraduate requirements in one year’s time by taking full course loads at Arizona State University and Oakwood University, attending both schools remotely. Oakwood University is a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning located in Huntsville, Alabama.
Alena initially double-majored in astronomical/planetary science and chemistry, hoping to one day be a NASA engineer. Then she became interested in Biomedical Science and viral immunology, and switched her major to pre-med. She expects to graduate with Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in the Spring of 2024.
On May 13, 2022, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine offered Wicker admission through the Burroughs Wellcome Scholars Early Assurance Program. This program partners the university with historically Black colleges and universities across Alabama to “provide early acceptance to medical school for students who meet the requirements for acceptance and matriculation.”
Alena posted on Instagram her acceptance letter to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She dedicated the post to her mother, saying that that she would not have succeeded without her mother’s support and sacrifices in her life:
“I graduated High school LAST YEAR at 12 years old and here I am one year later I’ve been accepted into Med School at 13. I’m a junior in college. I’ve worked so hard to reach my goals and live my dreams. Mama, I made it. I couldn’t have done it without you. You gave me every opportunity possible to be successful. You cheered me on, wiped my tears, gave me oreos when I needed comfort, you never allowed me to settle, disciplined me when I needed. You are the best mother a kid could ever ask for. MAMA I MADE IT! You always believed in me. You allowed me space to grow and become, make mistakes without making me feel bad. You allowed me the opportunity to experience the world.”
Alena will begin her studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine in Fall 2024. Alena is more than ten years younger than the average student beginning a medical course of study!
Brown STEM Girl
“I have had a passion and love for STEM ever since I was four years old,” said Alena in an Oakwood University article. According to AdventistToday.org, Oakwood’s STEM program is ranked 4th of small HBCUs to graduate Black STEM students.
In 2021, Alena placed second in the Ebony/Olay HBCU STEM Queens Competition. (HBCU = Historically Black Colleges and Universities; STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.) The competition highlights “brilliant students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs,” according to the competition’s website. Placement was determined by the number of votes each candidate received.
Alena has been featured in Ebony and Forbes as the “Brown STEM Girl.” She launched her own BSG Facebook page for girls of color ages 12-19 to “create this culture of Brown girls in STEM,” encouraging them to study and work in STEM fields. “My number one mission in life is to create a platform for girls that look like me in STEM … to have their talents seen and voices heard,” she said.
As part of her BSG initiative, Alena founded the non-profit Brown STEM Girl Foundation to offer scholarship opportunities for high-potential girls of color thereby removing financial barriers for them to make a difference in the world through STEM. Alena came up with the entire business plan for BSG on her own and contacted people who could assist with various aspects of its creation, from graphic design and public relations to larger funding requests and business management, her mother said in an interview with Good Morning America (GMA).
Alena posted an article on Instagram in which she explains why she is so passionate about BSG:
“I am an example of servant leadership …. I am called to create Generational Wealth and teach other kids how to do the same. I became a kidpreneur because I wanted to create a legacy in the world, and I wanted to create opportunities for other girls of color. I am so passionate about educating the next generation of entrepreneurs because what we don’t know can hinder us. When we know better, we do better, and we teach others how to do better Don’t allow not knowing to be the reason you don’t fulfill your purpose.”
Alena is a great role model for girls in STEM, especially girls of color!
Alena’s other mission in life is to work for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In 2021, Alena became the youngest person to intern for NASA. She worked on various assignments including remote research for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Alena’s mother said that her daughter had long dreamed of working for the space agency. “She would always say, ‘Mommy, I’m going to work for NASA,’” McQuarter told GMA. “Then she would start saying, ‘I’m going to be the youngest Black girl to ever work for NASA — watch.’”
Now as a pre-med student, Alena hopes to become a flight surgeon and work with NASA astronauts. Flight surgeons are doctors who undergo a two-year residency program in aerospace medicine. They learn how to identify and treat the unique physical problems that occur when crews spend many hours in space.
Alena has proven that you’re never too young to reach for the stars. “It doesn’t matter what your age or what you’re planning to do,” she said in an ABC Eyewitness News report. “Go for it, dream, then accomplish it.”
On July 28, 2022, Alena appeared on Good Morning America to discuss her early acceptance into medical school and to offer advice to other young people.
Alena is also also very active on her Facebook page so be sure to follow her there. 🙂