At the tender age of 13, Alena Analeigh Wicker is already done with high school and is busy completing two undergraduate degrees in biological science.
And she recently became the youngest black student to be accepted to medical school in the United States.
But the teen doesn’t think of herself as special.
“What is age?” says Alena, who is from Texas and is completing most of her courses online through Arizona State University and Alabama’s Oakwood University. “You’re not too young to do anything. I feel like I have proven to myself that I can do anything that I put my heart and mind to.”
Last year she became the youngest intern at space agency Nasa, and now the go-getter is making history again.
When she joins the University of Alabama’s Heersink School of Medicine in 2024, she will be 10 years younger than other first-year students.
Her mother, Daphne McQuarter, says Alena’s intelligence was already apparent from the age of three.
“Alena was gifted,” Daphne told The Washington Post. “It was just how she did things and how advanced she was. She was reading chapter books.”
She attended school for a few years but was eventually home-schooled by Daphne after being teased for being a “smarty-pants.”
During high school, learning was more of a pleasure than a pain, Alena says. She flew through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. As far as schoolwork went, none of it was a struggle.
“Algebra was easy. Geometry was intuitive. Biology was a breeze. I was bored. The high-school work was so easy for me that I ended up graduating at 12 years old. I love school, I love learning, I love reading.”
From a young age, Alena had a particular interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem subjects).
And yet despite her brilliance, Alena says she’s still a normal kid.
She enjoys going to the movies, playing soccer, baking and hanging out with friends.
The only difference between her and other teenagers is that she’s more focused and motivated, she says.
“I just have extremely good time management skills and I’m very disciplined,” Alena explains.
She says her goal in life is to help people and she's aiming to complete her medical degree by age 18.
“When I took my first biology class, I knew in that moment that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “A big part of what I want to do is viral immunology, and I want to advocate for underrepresented communities that lack healthcare. It’s something that I’ve become passionate about.”
In addition to all her other pursuits she’s founded Brown STEM Girl organisation to provide scholarships to young girls of colour pursuing Stem.
The organisation, which depends on donors, already has more than 460 active members and roughly 2 000 girls on a waiting list.
Alena says she wanted to create a platform for girls like her “to feel like they belong somewhere”.
“I represent all the brainiac girls in the world. It feels amazing to be able to create a path for girls that look like me.”
She hopes she can serve as an inspiration to other ambitious youngsters who have a hunger for knowledge.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can do it. Don’t let anybody tell you no”" Alena says. “I would say to any little girl out there that’s reading this: never give up on you, never let someone tell you that you can’t do something.”