First-Gen Student Inspired By Pre-Med Mentorship Program

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When Gisselle Mejia ’24 visited the Dominican University of California campus for the first time, she may have realized it was her destiny the instant she walked through the doors of the science building, looked straight ahead, and saw that the School of Health and Natural Sciences offered a Pre-Med Mentor program through Kaiser Permanente.

“When I was in fifth grade, I took an anatomy class and I fell in love with learning the function of the body and ever since then I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” Gisselle says. “I remember going to my annual physicals with my doctor and they would call me `Dr. Mejia’ there because I had this big dream where I one day wanted to be a doctor just like the doctor I was seeing. I even dressed up as a doctor for Halloween one time.”

This past fall Gisselle’s pretend trick-or-treat disguise moved closer to reality. The chemistry major was selected for the Kaiser Pre-Med Mentorship program. She has been meeting with a family physician, Dr. Jeanne-Marie Sinnott, in the downtown San Rafael Kaiser medical offices, and shadowing other Kaiser physicians.

“I like seeing all the different specialties,” Gisselle says. “It keeps me motivated especially when I’m doing so much studying right now in a rigorous curriculum, but taking three hours out of every week to shadow what physicians do on a daily basis has been really inspiring to me. I one day hope to have patients of my own.”

This is a pivotal year for Gisselle in going forward with her career aspirations. She is intrigued in becoming a Physician Assistant and has been eyeing programs at Stanford and the University of Southern California, though she would prefer to enter Dominican’s popular Physician Assistant Studies program as it’s closer to her family’s home in Richmond.

Gisselle also was recently awarded a William R. Hearst Foundation scholarship. She wrote a thoughtful and sincere letter of thanks to the foundation after she applied and was accepted.

“I was very honored,” she says. “It helps me continue my education here which I am grateful for, so these opportunities and support have made a significant impact on me and my family.”

Family comes first for Gisselle and making her family proud is important to her. She is a first-generation student, the first in her family to attend college. She welcomes the responsibility, challenges, and expectations that come with that.

“I’m the oldest of four kids and by being the oldest I feel like that’s one of my biggest motivations to go to college and keep pursuing my dream so they can see me as a role model,” she says. “I hope they will do the same and also have a big impact in my family.”

A graduate of Salesian College Preparatory, Gisselle considered going to St. Mary’s College and UC Santa Cruz, but was taken by the small class sizes and the beauty and intimacy of the Dominican campus.

“I really enjoy the nature there is around campus and the change of scenery when studying,” she says.

Gisselle was also attracted to the chemistry program at Dominican and the access she has to professors in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

 “I liked the research rotations here where you can work with the current research professors,” she says. “In my second semester, there were two-week periods for five different professors where you can see their specific research and choose one at the end of the rotations. I had never had the opportunity to do research before, so this was new to me. I started doing research here with a professor, and I really liked it and I’m still doing it too. That opened a lot of doors for me.”

Since her sophomore year, Gisselle has been doing research with Dr. Meredith Protas, associate professor and MS Biological Sciences Director in the School of Health and Natural Sciences. In fact, she has evolved into a student worker in Dr. Protas’ lab. She is working with Dr. Protas for her poster presentation with Amélie Krissy Cayton, Navreet Raj, and Noah Gibson at Dominican’s Scholarly and Creative Works Conference, which will be held in the Conlan Center on Wednesday, April 19. where Gisselle will give a student address at 11:45 a.m. Gisselle’s research is focused on the genetic basis of pigmentation and eye loss in the Infernus population.

In the meantime, Gisselle remains involved with Dominican’s Honors Program. She joined as a freshman and, as part of that program, she was introduced to Service-Learning classes. Gisselle, as part of her S-L class, did her community engagement with the Canal Alliance and, via Zoom, assisted fifth and sixth grade students with their homework.

“I’m part Guatemalan and the two kids I was helping are both Guatemalan and also children of immigrant parents, so I was able to connect with them on a closer level,” Gisselle says. “Rather than just helping them with homework we were able to talk, and they asked me questions about what made me want to college and how they hoped to go to college someday. I wanted to be an inspiration to them, especially because they reminded me of myself when I was younger. More introverted and scared and didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Not anymore. That all changed the moment Gisselle walked into the science building at Dominican.

Photo above of Gisselle Mejia courtesy of nursing major Joshua Eason '24


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