15-year-old college graduate shares message of never letting others discourage you

Alena McQuarter joined Arizona State University with the goal of pursuing her interests in STEM subjects. However, this year, the 15-year-old graduated from the university not only with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with an emphasis on biomedical sciences and a minor in global health but also with a stronger sense of purpose and a newfound voice of her own (source). Alena will earn her master’s degree in biology from ASU in May (source).

During her time at ASU, Alena McQuarter also defended a thesis and became a member of groups like the Black Student Union (source).

Besides her academic pursuits, Alena ran the Brown STEM Girl Foundation, an organization that promotes the study of science, technology, engineering, and math among girls of color (source). College showed her that there is much more she wants to accomplish: “I’m a philanthropist. I’m an activist. I’m passionate about humanity … I’m more than just STEM, and that’s what college helped me figure out,” she said. Alena wants to use her voice and platform to support underdogs and empower girls and women of color (source).

Although Alena completed most of her classes online from her home base in Roanoke, Texas, she spent her final semester at ASU’s campus (source). ASU helped her realize her passion for current events, such as the Israel-Hamas war and the death of Mahsa Amini, inspiring her to become vocal about such issues (source).

One significant involvement for Alena at ASU was the Student Outbreak Response Team, where she worked with an epidemiologist to investigate and respond to the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona (source). This experience reinforced her passion for global health and advocating for those without access to healthcare (source).

Alena also had the opportunity to speak with immigrants whose families were trying to immigrate to the United States, which further amplified her voice and motivated her to use her platform for important causes (source).

Overcoming Unique Challenges as a Teenager in College

Alena McQuarter acknowledges that many people may perceive her college experience as easy, but she emphasizes that she still has to study like any other student. She faced the additional challenge of people not taking her seriously due to her young age. However, she soon realized that her work speaks for itself and has consistently been on the dean’s list and even received a dean’s medal for her academic achievements (source).

Alena describes her experience at ASU as “the best experience ever” and received guidance and support from professors and mentors throughout her journey (source). She now looks forward to making a bigger impact on the world after graduation (source).

Alena McQuarter receives a hug from her mother following the ASU Barrett Honors College convocation on Monday, December 11, 2023.

Pursuing Higher Education: Master’s, Doctoral, and Global Expansion

After earning her master’s degree in biology from ASU in May, Alena McQuarter plans to pursue her doctor of philosophy in virology and infectious disease (source). She has already applied to several schools, including the University of California, Irvine, University of Texas Health Science Center, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Baylor University, Texas A&M University, and Morehouse College (source).

Alena also has ambitions to expand the reach of the Brown STEM Girl Foundation globally and focus more on mental health support for college students (source). She aims to contribute to vaccine research, travel the world, and make a difference in people’s lives (source).

Alena McQuarter on stage at Arizona State University's Barrett Honors College convocation on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023.

Despite her impressive achievements, Alena reminds everyone that she is still a teenager and enjoys activities outside of school. She has a great friend group, loves singing, is athletic, and has a competitive spirit (source). Alena has other projects underway, including an animated series, as she wants to emphasize that there is more to her than just STEM (source).

For those considering pursuing something that scares them, Alena offers a word of advice: “Never let people tell you no … Do the work. Keep going. Don’t let people tell you what you can’t do and silence out the noise around you. Keep the main thing the main thing” (source).