Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.
Ever since Alena Wicker was a young child, she’s always set the bar high for herself. At 4 years old, she was fascinated with space, dreaming of one day working with astronauts. Now, at only 14 years old, she is working toward a degree at Arizona State University.
Wicker made national headlines after graduating from high school as a 12-year-old and then becoming the youngest Black student to get accepted into medical school a year later.
“It’s been pretty cool to watch her evolve,” said Wicker’s mother, Daphne McQuarter. “I’ve shared her college life with the world and in front of cameras. Her college career has been shared in the public eye, and I think she’s done a remarkable job.”
In 2021, Wicker received a full-tuition scholarship through a partnership between ASU, the Phoenix Mercury and Desert Financial Credit Union, allowing her to pursue her education with little financial worry.
Wicker is studying biological sciences online at ASU through the School of Life Sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As she continues her undergraduate studies, Wicker embraces her schooling, building lasting friendships and helping inspire others.
When she started at ASU, she enrolled in the engineering school with dreams of one day working for NASA. But after one biology class, she decided to change her major.
“What sparked my interest was there’s so much that comes into being a biological sciences major,” she said. “You can go towards the human anatomy, the veterinary route and learn more about our environment and animals, or even go down to researching the cellular level of what makes life, life.”
The biological sciences program has allowed Wicker to develop a valuable and broad understanding of many disciplines in biology and take advantage of every opportunity that fits in with her path.
Wicker has also built her own community with Barrett, The Honors College, which she credits as being vital to her success. All the faculty, professors and classmates have helped support her along the way.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Wicker said. “Barrett gives me that energy boost because they’re always there as a community. They’re there to help me learn more. They are like my mentors, the people I go to when I need help.”
Ara Austin, senior director of online engagement and strategic initiatives and a clinical assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, first taught Wicker in an organic chemistry class. From there, it was clear to Austin that Wicker’s passion for the sciences extended beyond just getting her college degree.
“We want to make sure that we are fully supporting this young student who is very enthusiastic and clearly wants to stay in the sciences,” Austin said. “From my perspective, as her teacher, she is making sure she gets everything she needs to fully reach her potential.
“She doesn’t want to just be a scientist or a person with a science degree. She has an inherent intention, a desire to help others and mentor others as well.”
With that desire to help others and think beyond the scope, Wicker founded The Brown STEM Girl. This organization was created to “provide an outlet for girls of color in STEM” and “aims to engage, empower and educate” in hopes that girls are motivated to reach their potential.
“I started my business to show the world that there’s this community of girls that are coming together to show the world that we’re here,” Wicker said. “I’m focused on getting their stories out there, getting them engaged with STEM and helping to empower the next generation.”
Despite the untraditional path of her education, Wicker and her mother are adamant that she does not miss out on the fun of being a kid.
She is in choir, runs track, plays soccer and hangs out with friends her age.
As she looks to her future beyond ASU, the opportunities are endless. She can choose to pursue medical school or further her education with a PhD.
“That’s the big decision because that’s what will determine what I will be doing in my career,” she said. “I’m thinking of going toward the PhD route because I love getting out there, discovering new things, being in the lab, finding cures for viruses or even connecting with medicine in other parts of the world.”
Whatever Wicker does next, she has impacted many people she has interacted with at ASU.
“Alena embodies what it means to be an ASU student because of her dedication to learning, leadership within her community, and her commitment to helping solve the scientific and social challenges of our era,” said Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences at The College.
"Her curiosity and passion will take her down any path she decides to pursue in the future.”
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