Michael Carmen '84 Mentoring Scholarship
A medical emergency helped Stephon Charles chart his academic and career paths.
Stricken with appendicitis in the eighth grade, “I talked with my surgeon and with medical students, and I started to think about studying medicine,” recalls Charles, who had initially planned to become a lawyer. “I liked science, especially biology, and math.”
Around the same time, his mom was struggling with allergies seemingly triggered by stress. Her health has since improved, but her experience also inspired Charles to commit to a course of study that would lead to a medical degree. As a member of Future Physicians of America, an organization for high-school students interested in medicine, he attended a conference that “reinforced my idea of what I wanted to do” and made him realize “I like to problem solve.” He also took advanced-placement biology classes.
Charles remained on the academic fast track after arriving at UAlbany, switching his major from biology because biochemistry seemed to offer more opportunities for “critical analysis.” Each summer since freshman year, he has volunteered at Brookdale Hospital, which provides care for the million residents of the eastern part of Brooklyn, N.Y., his hometown. Most recently, as an emergency room volunteer, “I enjoyed observing the doctors’ and nurses’ empathy toward the people they were treating,” Charles remembers. He had also been considering a career as a physician’s assistant or a dentist, but witnessing the doctors’ compassion cemented his decision to study for an M.D.; “I’ll be helping people and doing what I love.
“Whatever I do in life,” he adds, “I have to go full force and become a master at it.” Charles proved that point when he brought his freshman-year G.P.A. up from 3.24 to 3.77. Convinced that an even higher average was “doable,” he “pushed forward” and now maintains a 3.9 G.P.A.
As a junior, Charles joined Middle Earth, the University’s peer-assistance program, which helps students to meet their educational goals and to cope with emotional, social, and other life challenges. He also serves as a physics tutor.
The Michael Carmen ’84 Mentoring Scholarship has encouraged Charles in his efforts to assist fellow students and excel in his studies. While the award supports a student who demonstrates great leadership and promise, it also comes with the offer of mentorship from its founder, who majored in accounting at UAlbany. Carmen, says Charles, “wrote about sports for the student newspaper even though he was weak in writing and didn’t know much about sports. He pushed himself. Knowing someone like him inspires me to push myself, as well.”
Charles, who was a Dean’s-List student and an undergraduate researcher in Professor Ken Halvorsen’s lab, is interested in studying the Zika virus and dengue. He plans to take the MCATs soon.