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Next Up: VCU

“The moment that defined Tyler for me was my internship through NASA. It taught me the critical thinking skills and tools that engineers use.”

Engineering grad and physician-to-be Alex Ritchie views medicine from multiple angles.

After a NASA internship, leading campus groups, and two years at Tyler, she’s completing her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University—and winning awards for investigating how to use nanoparticles to regenerate lung tissue.

Here’s how she raised the bar on how much she can achieve:

Break down your misperceptions

She never imagined how much she would accomplish at Tyler. Instead of community college being a drag on her med-school application, it became her launch point.

“I had the typical stereotype about community colleges: I thought it was going to set me back and I would be looked at differently,” Alex said. “Tyler changed my entire outlook on life. I wasn’t initially happy about going there, but Tyler helped me find the best version of myself—both as a student and a person.”

Intern with NASA

During her first year, Alex’s professor pushed her to apply for a prestigious program with the National Community College Aerospace Scholars. She was one of 40 community college students nationwide selected for the five-week workshop.

Alex strategized with NASA experts and other students over video chats to meet the challenge: building a prototype Mars rover that could theoretically go to the red planet. At the close of her internship, she also got an inside look at NASA missions and mechanics at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

“The moment that defined Tyler for me was my internship through NASA,” Alex said. “It taught me the critical thinking skills and tools that engineers use.”

Start your own club

Tyler didn’t have the club she loved, so why not start one? She founded the Rotaract Club to create leaders and pique her classmates’ interest in community service.

“I went to Tyler not knowing anyone there,” Alex said. “Building out the Rotaract Club was my way to make friends. It was something that I believed in. By February of my first year, it was up and running.”

She invited local Rotary Club guests to give presentations on topics like the Rotary’s campaign to end polio in third-world countries. Those conversations inspired many community service projects on campus, including Tyler’s own campaign to raise awareness of the many children still vulnerable to polio.

“It developed me as a leader,” Alex said. “My biggest takeaway from that experience? To be a good leader, you need to inspire people who you’re leading. Sounds simple, but it’s an acquired skill.”

That leadership experience inspired her to serve on the college’s Foundation Board, Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and student council.

“Tyler builds you up as a college student and an adult,” said Alex, who also joined the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. “The second that I decided I wanted to be involved as much as I could, the opportunities that came my way were incredible. Tyler believes in students who come from different backgrounds and that each of us can do something incredible.”

Build a complex view of medicine

Now at VCU, she’s completing her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and winning awards for investigating how to use nanoparticles to regenerate lung tissue.

As a fellow of the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Initiative, her research suggests that introducing nanoparticles to the lung’s macrophages (cells that engulf and digest cellular debris) changes their phenotype. This research could encourage tissue growth and healing.

She presented her research at the Biomedical Engineering Society annual conference and won first place at VCU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium last November.

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