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UST Grad Gets Full-Tuition Scholarship to Medical School

For James Doan, doing undergraduate research in biochemistry at the University of St. Thomas was a way to fuel his passion for science and get ahead of the curriculum. It also helped him earn a full-tuition, merit scholarship to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, where he will start in the fall.

Doan is among the 328 undergraduates and 350 graduate students who will participate in the 61st Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14 at Reliant Arena, One Reliant Park.

After four years at UST, Doan is still getting used to the idea that he will be going to medical school on a full scholarship. “It feels good that you don’t have to worry about the monetary stuff while you’re studying,” he said. “It’s a great honor because they only give it to 20 of the incoming students, and it was merit-based.” As the medical school is fairly new, Doan will be in the third class, which includes 80 students.

UST has a high acceptance rate into medical school. Between 2005-2010, 71 percent of applicants from UST were accepted into medical school, said Dr. Michelle Steiger, assistant professor of chemistry and physics and Co-Chair of the Health Professions Advisory Committee.

However, being accepted into medical school is one accomplishment; not having to pay for it is another, and Steiger is excited for Doan’s full-tuition scholarship. “I thought it was awesome,” she said. “I was very happy for James, and I thought the award was well deserved.”

From the beginning, Doan knew he wanted to pursue the pre-medicine track. His favorite class has been organic chemistry, a class known among pre-med students for its difficulty. “I really enjoyed it,” Doan said. “It made sense to me. I would read chapters three or four times and still be interested.”

Doan believes his research helped with his medical school interviews. “It shows that you’re dedicated to the science field,” he said.

Doan first started research in his freshman year, using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). “The faculty chose five freshmen who they believed could understand nuclear magnetic resonance, because you actually learn that in organic chemistry sophomore year,” he said.

Later, he declared a biochemistry major, and he started doing research with Steiger, who has been his advisor for several research projects. “I learned all the biochemistry lab techniques before I took biochemistry,” he said. “It’s a way to apply what you learn so you remember it.”

Along with techniques and scientific principles, he also learned that experiments don’t always work. Doing NMR research the summer before junior year, he tried to extract lipids from E. coli bacteria membranes and observe them on phosphate NMR. “The signal wouldn’t work,” he said. “It was complete noise. We concluded that we needed to do a larger concentration.” The experiment required mixing a liter of solution at 4 degrees Celsius. “I had to go into the cold room, physically in a refrigerator, to mix it,” Doan said. “It was a lot of fun though, and there were a lot of good techniques that I learned.”

Steiger described Doan as a conscientious, smart and dedicated student. “He definitely puts extra effort into everything he is doing,” she said.

Doan said working with Steiger is one of the reasons he has enjoyed UST so much. “She opened me up to a new field of science that I never knew about before college,” he said. “She’s always there if you need anything.” If a class did not do well on a quiz, she would review the material again.  “She tries to make you understand before she moves on,” he said. “That’s what I love about her.”

Doan’s excitement for science also extends outside the classroom and lab. He is president of the American Chemical Society – Student Affiliates chapter at UST, and the group is involved in several community service events. Every year, members participate in the Education Rainbow Challenge, a math and science competition for elementary and middle school students.

Steiger said Doan has dedicated a lot of time to the ACS student chapter, as he has to be present at all the events they host. “James is able to do a lot and do it very well,” she said. “Even when he’s stressed he is still smiling. As a professor, you automatically love that.”

Steiger said Doan is a testament to the strong biochemistry degree program at UST. “In time, he’s going to be a wonderful physician,” she said.  “He will, no doubt, be a leader of faith and character.”

Doan’s graduation from UST and acceptance into medical school continues the family legacy. His two older brothers, John and David, also attended UST, and now both are physicians. Doan said his parents are proud of him and his brothers. “I think they’re pretty proud that we were able to achieve that,” he said. “They’re very supportive, and none of us could do it without their help.”