By Kerry Laird
Special to Texas Metro News from Prairie View A&M University
PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas – Stellar researcher, Magna Cum Laude, HBCU STEM Queen: These are just a few of the titles Alexis VanZandt, a biology major at Prairie View A&M University, has earned during her undergraduate work. And she won’t stop there—her goal after graduation this month is to pursue a career as a physician.
“Prairie View A&M helped me achieve my goals by providing the necessary skills, resources, and tools to be successful upon graduation,” VanZandt said. “The Biology Department, especially, has gone above and beyond for me as a biology major. The department head, Dr. Harriette Howard-Lee Block, always makes it her duty to do what’s best for the students and gives us any resources deemed suitable.”
A solid foundation helps pave the way for a great future, and VanZandt has certainly taken advantage of the opportunities presented to her at PVAMU.
As a first-generation college student, VanZandt carries forward a new legacy for her family, with the determination to inspire others and build a better future where none may exist—a little advice she remembers receiving as a child.
“I have always been told two things that I never forgot growing up,” said VanZandt, who hails from Dallas, a graduate of David W. Carter High School in Oak Cliff. “’When there is no room for you at the table, you build your own,’ and ‘one thing no one can ever take from you is your in- telligence.’ Therefore, being the first generation is so important to me.”
VanZandt says she feels the responsibility of being a first-generation college student, as well as the sense of isolation that can accompany the journey. Not only is she one of the first of her generation in the family to attend college, but she is also the first female to finish high school.
Even though her oldest brother just finished school, VanZandt said there is no one from the older generations with whom she can discuss some of the issues that arise from the daily stresses of college life.
“I’ve never had immediate family members with whom I can share my frustrations about the ins and outs of secondary education because they never understood,” said VanZandt. “I plan to instill the importance of education in African Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds like myself.
Legacy blood may not be in Van-Zandt’s veins, but she is quick to point out that her step-grandfather is, indeed, a PVAMU legacy. In fact, his name is Robert Jones and he was inducted in 2007 into the PVAMU Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 1963 N.A.I.A. Championship Football Team. How’s that for Panther legacy ties?
Active, Engaged, On Fire
While at PVAMU, VanZandt remained active, staying involved in more than ten student organizations from the time she arrived on campus.
Student engagements included:
- The Purple Jackets
- Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society
- Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society
- Panther Advisory Leaders (PALS, 4 years)
- Student Partnership and Outreach Team
- Women’s Council
- SGA Go Green Committee, 2018
- Campus Activities Board (CAB)
- 2019 secretary for Women of Honor, Excellence and Rarity
- National Society for Collegiate
Scholars Honor Society
- Chemistry Club
- Scholars in Undergraduate Math and Science
- Minority Association for Prehealth Students
VanZandt has also been an active researcher for Gloria C. Regisford, Ph.D., as one of “Regisford’s Lab Rats” in the Biology Department.
“These organizations taught me the importance of teamwork, communication, perseverance, and con- fidence,” said VanZandt. “They truly got me out of my shell and set the foundation for the woman I am today. I learned the importance of commu- nity involvement and commitment. These organizations allowed me to make a difference in other students’ lives as a peer mentor and encourage support for the success of 305 freshmen throughout their undergraduate collegiate careers.”
Going the Distance
VanZandt has proven to be a budding scientist, establishing her place as a researcher among some of the top in the country.
With internships throughout her college career that took her to Stanford, Yale, and UC-Berkeley, VanZandt gained valuable, hands-on knowledge and critical skills that will career her deep into a career in medicine.
“These internships helped with deciding what I want to do,” said VanZandt. “They exposed me to several career paths in the STEM field and medical field. I also learned key skills such as communication, public speaking, time management, and more.”
VanZandt became so involved and skilled as a researcher in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics arena that her college nominated her as an HBCU STEM Queen for OLAY/EBONY Magazine, representing PVAMU. VanZandt went on to win and serves as one of 10 finalists.
“Becoming an HBCU STEM Queen, by EBONY, has opened up so many opportunities for me that will positively impact my career,” said Van Zandt. “I have received so much publicity and support. I have been able to network with individuals of high stature and meet celebrities that have given me advice.”
VanZandt says the opportunities opened to her after becoming an HBCU STEM Queen include a substantial scholarship, inclusion in the February EBONY Magazine issue, and a summer internship with Procter & Gamble.
And this marks only the beginning of VanZandt’s bright future. Her reasons for entering a career in medicine stem from an end-of-life event in her family and a desire to give back to the community.
“I plan to attend medical school and become a cardiothoracic surgeon or an emergency medicine physician,” said VanZandt. “After the passing of my grandmother, I decided to pursue a career in medicine. I also plan to start my practice with dreams of helping and aiding the Black community in healthcare and also assist- ing with orphanages, due to my upbringing.”
Keep to Family, Faith
“I attended Prairie View because it felt like a family the minute I stepped on campus,” said VanZandt, remembering her initial trip to PVAMU. “Prairie View sucks you in and treats you like one big family. I fell in love with the culture, the history, and Prairie View’s never- ending goal to Produce Productive People in the professional world.”
VanZandt knows a thing or two about the importance of family and a place that feels like home. The support she received from the university throughout her time at PVAMU can only be described as “amazing,” said VanZandt, with encouragement that inspires students to “fulfill dreams and achieve goals.”
Through faith and commitment to her dreams, VanZandt rose to the top despite struggles along the way.
“There were times during my years at PVAMU where my family was homeless,” said VanZandt. “For two years, my mother didn’t own a home or have a stable place to live, but I worked hard and would help her any way I could, even if it meant I had nothing. I plan to show my peers to remain optimistic and let them know their future is bright, no matter their upbringing.
“My advice to current students is to get out of their shells, stay persistent, stay focused, persevere, and always keep God first. Your upbringing and background do not dictate your ending.”