Current Scholar Spotlight: Melanie Russell

melanie russell with her Ohio State diploma

Melanie Russell’s path to medical school began in the 6th grade with a request to come to the guidance counselor’s office at the Cleveland School of the Arts. “I didn’t know why I was asked to come to the office; I thought I was in trouble!” Instead, Melanie was told about the Young Scholars Program (YSP) at The Ohio State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) that provides an opportunity for academically talented first-generation students with demonstrated financial need to advance their goal of pursuing higher education. Scholars in good standing upon graduation receive an appropriate financial aid package to attend Ohio State, along with the skills and support needed to succeed in college. “YSP prepared me for college in every way: life skills, financial aid, budgeting, SAT and ACT preparation, things that weren’t covered in high school.”

Once Melanie arrived at Ohio State, the YSP support continued. “I think the most beneficial part in coming to Ohio State was knowing that I had a network. I already had this set group of YSP friends. I just felt like I had somebody to talk to no matter what problem I was facing. Whatever time of day it was, I knew that YSP would be there in some way, shape, or form.”

In addition to her circle of friends, Melanie also had mentors such as Keith Lofton, the Program Coordinator at the time for the Cleveland YSP program, Victoria Dunn, and James L. Moore, PhD. “I remember one day just talking to (Victoria) because I felt so defeated. I was like, ‘I can’t do this; I’m not going to make it. I don’t know what to do.’ A doctor was the only thing I wanted to be.” Ms. Dunn, who was the director for ODI’s Leadership Initiative for Women of Color, gave Melanie some very good advice: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever give up, no matter what. And if you don’t know the way, don’t be afraid to ask for help.” And asking for help was how Melanie met Dr. Moore, the director of the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, also housed within ODI. “He told me, ‘Melanie, we are going to get you together.’ And after that meeting, I got it together!”

Dr. Moore also got Melanie interested in undergraduate research by introducing her to “an amazing mentor,” T.M. Ayodele “Ayo” Adesanya, who is an MD/PhD student at Ohio State. Working with Ayo on cardiovascular disease and repairing heart valves gave Melanie an appreciation for research. “You see all of these procedures, but you don’t really know where they came from. I actually got to see that it all starts in the lab, and that gave me a huge appreciation for researchers and the things that they do.” And Ayo has done more than foster Melanie’s appreciation of research; he’s taken her under his wing, helping her through the entire med school application process.

Melanie graduated from Ohio State in December 2015 with degree in biology. That degree would help her when she went into medicine, a field Melanie’s wanted to study since she was a child. “My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and although my mom was my best friend, my grandma was my partner in crime. She got me out of all trouble, brought me all the junk food, got me whatever, whenever.” When her grandmother was diagnosed, Melanie was 12 years old. She was devastated and wanted to understand what has happening. “I was so young that people didn’t really want to explain it to me, but I just had so many questions. I think that initially sparked my interest, and so I started researching Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. I just got so intrigued, and I told my Mom that she needed to put me in the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine. It just kind of continued to grow from there.”

When it came to deciding where she would like to continue her graduate studies, Melanie knew that she wanted to study medicine at Ohio State. “I always felt like Ohio State chose me. It started with that one meeting with my guidance counselor, and then I met Keith, fell in love with the program and thought, ‘This is amazing.’”

The traditional route to a career in medicine requires finishing an undergraduate degree then applying to medical school. As she neared graduation, Melanie felt that she wasn’t quite ready to begin medical school. “I had some tough times as an undergrad, so I knew that my GPA wasn’t going to be competitive enough to allow me to go straight through. And even if I did go straight through, I felt that I didn’t really comprehend the classes I had taken even though I passed them. Medical school is very rigorous, and I had to be as totally prepared as I could possibly be.”

Melanie Russel with her mom

That’s where Ohio State’s MEDPATH program stepped in, a program one of her mentors mentioned to Melanie. The program’s aim is “to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and students from educationally and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds who enter medical school and who show evidence of a commitment to practice in a medically underserved community.” The real focus of the program, Melanie says, is to guarantee that students have a strong scientific foundation so that when they matriculate to medical school, they will be ready and they will be prepared.

In order to be accepted into the program, MEDPATH applicants must first submit a completed American Medical College Application Service application that lists the Ohio State College of Medicine as a school selection and an Ohio State College of Medicine Secondary Application. Finally, selected applicants are referred to the MEDPATH program, where they complete yet another application as well as interview with the College of Medicine Admissions Committee. Getting accepted into MEDAPTH wasn’t easy; Melanie stated that they selected 100 people to apply, chose 30 to interview, and only 15 were admitted.

Melanie started the MEDPATH program in August 2016 and will finish in July 2016. She sees MEDPATH as the graduate component of YSP. In her first semester, Melanie took graduate level courses such as physiology and immunology. But, she says, Spring Semester was when things “kind of got tough.” Melanie had a full course load – again, graduate level classes – but in addition, she had Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) prep. From Monday through Thursday, Melanie took part in a three-hour MCAT class, usually from 6-9 p.m. Every Saturday, she took practice MCAT exams – which are seven hours long – and would review them afterwards.

Her MEDPATH class took the MCAT exam in May. Now that Melanie has passed that exam, she is doing the pre-entry program, which consists of anatomy labs and learning about the human body in-depth and will matriculate into The Ohio State University College of Medicine class of 2021. Melanie is also taking a biochemistry immunology class, which will get her ready for Foundations I in medical school.

For much of what has happened to her academically, Melanie credits her mom and YSP. “The one person who kept telling me ‘You can!’ was my mom. She motivates me. She calls me every day, saying ‘Good morning, Dr. Russell!’ I owe her and YSP so much. As a first-generation college student, it’s super hard and even discouraging to feel like I have this dream that’s so large, and nobody has done it before me. So it puts a lot a pressure on you. But YSP is here to help. They encourage you to continue on this dream, and they make sure that you accomplish it.”


Prior Spotlights

Carly Sobol Spotlight

Carly Sobol Spotlight

Growing up in a small community in Dayton, Ohio, Carly Sobol was fortunate to receive a great education, be surrounded by inspiring individuals, and have a strong family unit. “My family was one of a few Jewish families in the neighborhood. I learned at a young age the value of tradition and the challenges that come with being unique. I loved explaining my heritage to friends and learning more about theirs.”

 Read more about Carly Sobol.

Alexis Myers spotlight

Alexis Myers spotlight

When she first came to The Ohio State University as a Young Scholar, Alexis Myers never thought of herself as someone who could be a role model or a mentor. Little did she know that at Ohio State, Alexis would become an Academic Success Partner within the Young Scholars Program. “When I came to Ohio State, I never thought of myself as someone who could be a role model or a mentor for anyone else, but when this opportunity came to me, I knew I needed to take advantage,” she said. Read more about Alexis Myers.

Kyla Wilson spotlight

Kyla Wilson spotlight

Kyla Wilson has put a lot of thought into her career path. “I always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I hate science so that didn’t work. As for the law, I like reading, but law just bored me!” Her uncle would tell Kyla, who was good at math, that since she was in the fourth grade, she should know her multiplication tables. “He made me work in a composition book every day over the summer.” By the end of the summer, Kyla was hooked, and she knew that arithmetic was going to play a part in her future.

 Read more about Kyla Wilson.

MiChaela Barker spotlight

MiChaela Barker spotlight

Through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program, The Ohio State University and 10 additional Ohio colleges and universities are helping to increase underrepresented student success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.  As one of 78 LSAMP scholars on the Ohio State campus, MiChaela Barker has found a community that not only understands her on a cultural level but on an academic level as well. Read more about MiChaela Barker.

Shelly Martin spotlight

Shelly Martin spotlight

If there is one thing that Shelly Martin has learned, it is that education can light up a dark world. And when she realized that her passion was people, she combined those two certainties into her life’s work and purpose. Read more about Shelly Martin.

Zaid Hightower spotlight

Zaid Hightower spotlight

The spring before Zaid Hightower was ready to begin classes at The Ohio State University, he received an email from the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, inviting him to attend the Center’s Early Arrival Program (EAP). It was his mother who read the email and told Zaid that he needed to attend the program. Read more about Zaid Hightower.

Maya Prabhu Spotlight

Maya Prabhu Spotlight

The day in April 2013 that Maya Prabhu received the Morrill Scholarship will forever be etched in her memory. “It was a day of tears, hugs, and – most importantly – empowerment. Since that day, my experiences with the Morrill Scholars Program and the Distinction Scholarship have given me many tools and resources that I know will help me succeed in all areas of my life.” Read more about Maya Prabhu.

Daniel Moussa Spotlight

Daniel Moussa Spotlight

Daniel Moussa has long been interested in the sciences, and his background in sports has led him to focus on the “silent epidemic” of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which are often the results of sports accidents. “As someone who plays sports, I am aware of the dangers of concussions, which are a type of TBI, and their long-term effects,” Daniel stated. Read more.

Ignacio Munoz Spotlight

Ignacio Munoz Spotlight

After just one week at The Ohio State University, Ignacio Muñoz was confident that he made the right choice when choosing which university to attend. A freshman at Ohio State, Ignacio is proud to be a Buckeye because he knows that the university will provide him with a current platform to build upon all aspects of himself as well as become a future springboard to propel him into his career and adult life. Read more about Ignacio Muñoz.

Rolando Muniz Spotlight

Rolando Muniz Spotlight

Rolando Muniz always understood the value of and the need for diversity and inclusion. At St. John's Jesuit High School and Academy in Toledo, Rolando was part of the school’s 20/20 Program, which helps underrepresented students by providing financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The program also pays for students' ACT and SAT and college application fees – or any other needed test or document – and provides additional support such as jobs outside of school and volunteering opportunities. Read more about Rolando Muniz.


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