Many years ago, as a child, Everett’s Shakira Fedna watched as a man was beaten outside her home nearly to death, and in the ensuring chaos, she recalls seeing a woman – a doctor – rush to the scene and care for the man, maybe saving his life.
It was with that one event at a young age that Fedna, 19, has embarked on a pre-med pathway at UMass Lowell, and not seeing a lot of women of color or students from Everett in the program, she has relied on a support network initiated by the college called Medical Profession Admission Gap Initiative and Collaboration, or MAGIC, that has helped her adjust and continue on her pathway to that dream that formed long ago.
“I have always wanted to do medicine since I was younger,” she said. “When I lived in Haiti growing up…I was at home and there was a fight outside and this man was beaten badly, half to death, over what I think was a money conflict. He was lying on the street half-dead and there was a crowd and no one knew what to do because there was no one really trained in medicine. Then a Black woman came to help him and I was mesmerized by her. I asked my mom what she was, and my mom said she was a doctor. From then on, I wanted to be the kind of person that could save a life.”
Fedna went to elementary school in Malden, but moved to Everett before high school, graduating Everett High in 2019. She went to college at UMass Lowell and is majoring in Biology on a pre-med track with a Spanish minor. She was excited to begin her pathway to being a doctor, but quickly realized there weren’t a lot of people like her – specifically Black women – in the program, and also not a lot of urban kids from places like Everett.
That’s where MAGIC stepped in and helped her connect with other like students in order to get acclimated and to feel comfortable in a situation that could become overwhelming and derail her dream.
“The program gave me a group of people with a similar background as me and helped me navigate my first year on campus,” she said. “Because there is not a lot of representation in my field, it’s been great to find people that are confident and helped me see that I can do it too…”
Chemistry Associate Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie started the MAGIC program when he saw bright students falling by the wayside and noticed they were mostly from urban schools or were students of color.
For Reddie, who teaches multiple sections of Organic Chemistry, the program is focused on providing support to students from groups that are underrepresented in medicine, including Black, Hispanic and Southeast Asian American students. Many, like Fedna, are first-generation college students who come from school districts that don’t offer many advanced-placement science classes or prepare them well for the critical-thinking section of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Reddie said.
“These kids aren’t given a fair chance from the get-go,” Reddie said. “They are playing catch-up from the day they start college. Most of them are behind on every metric – reading, chemistry skills – but we can give them a fair shot. We can provide equity in their educational pathway.”
So with support from the Kennedy College of Sciences and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash, Reddie started MAGIC in fall 2019. Francine Coston, associate director of Multicultural Affairs, and Shontae Praileau, coordinator of College-Based Advising, helped Reddie to structure MAGIC and then identify incoming first-year students and rising sophomores who showed academic promise and a strong interest in pursuing medical and other health careers.
That fall, 40 first- and second-year students enrolled, including Fedna, who also works as a pharmacy tech at a CVS store. MAGIC provides twice-weekly tutoring in Chemistry I and II for first-year students and Organic Chemistry I and II for sophomores. The students also learn about the medical school admission process.
Fedna, who has been accepted in the UMass Medical School’s BaccMD program, was going to drop her pre-med dreams when she was having trouble with biology her first year, and focus on public health. However, with MAGIC and Reddie’s support, she pushed on.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone from my area that felt they could make it to that dream of becoming a physician,” she said.
“I was working so much trying to pay for school that half the time I didn’t even know why I was doing what I was doing,” Fedna continued. “But I went into biology because I love biology and I knew if I opted out of it, I’d be disappointed in myself. So I decided to stick with it.”
That support is one reason Fedna said she is nothing but happy with her choice to attend UMass Lowell – noting that it was a school where faculty understood and were willing to give the little extra push to someone like her so that she wouldn’t give up.
Now, she is parlaying that confidence to push into the field of OB/GYN within the medical industry – saying so many in that field do not understand or represent women of color, or women in general.
“My interest has a lot to do with my interest in women’s anatomy and women’s health, but also systemic racism that occurs in OB/GYN,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about women who aren’t cared for properly or can’t find an OB/GYN. As a person of color, when I look for an OB/GYN, I feel the same way. I want to be that option for women out there looking and concerned about their health.”
She said she would not be where she is without the support of her mother, Rosenie, and her siblings – including Ewnie, Marvins and Samy Fedna.
“Without my mom, I would not be the person I am or where I am today,” she said.
In addition to keeping on the pre-med track at UMass Lowell, Fedna will also be attending the BaccMD program. BaccMD students attend residential summer programs and a monthly book group that introduce them to different medical specialties while preparing them for the MCAT through projects, physics instruction and seminar-style discussions.
Fedna said she encourages any students at Everett High School who want to be doctors not to give up on that dream because of where they come from, or what they look like.
“I want to encourage a lot of pre-meds,” she said. “It’s a long road, but the road does end and it’s very attainable.”