In the fall of 2019, undergraduate student Alejandra Rodriguez recognized a need that had not yet been filled at the University of Nevada, Reno. As she embarked on her pre-medical education, she wanted to create a community of support for herself and other minority students pursuing medicine. Founding a chapter of MAPS, the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, seemed like the perfect solution.
“A fellow pre-med student and I decided that MAPS would be the perfect opportunity to ensure that underrepresented students in our community get the resources needed on their path into the medical field,” Rodriguez, a fourth-year biology student and President of MAPS, said. “This organization supports minorities on campus by bringing together a group of like-minded individuals who all share one thing in common: trying to pursue medical and or health professions. Our pre-medical community on campus needs the support of one another while figuring out the path to medical and/or professional school.”
"From my cultural background of being Mexican-American, I naturally grew up with a network of unconditional support regardless of the goal. When coming to the University of Nevada, Reno my first year, I wanted to create something that gave me that similar familiarity with a group of individuals who had the same ambitions as I did in the medical field."
MAPS is the undergraduate representation of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and was launched nationally by SNMA in 1989 as a way of increasing the pipeline of minorities into all medical professions, inclusive of medicine, nursing, public health and health care administration and entrepreneurship. SNMA’s mission to support current and future underrepresented minority medical students, address the needs of underserved communities and increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians is reflected in the mission of the undergraduate club. The University’s new MAPS chapter is one of 250 active chapters nationwide.
In early March of 2020, the group held an open forum where undergraduate students were invited to meet with first- through fourth-year medical students from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, including many SNMA members. The undergraduates asked questions about everything from student loans to school/life balance and built connections for continued support. The group was fortunate enough to have this meeting before the University moved to online operations later that month.
“Our last meeting prior to the University shutting down campus turned out to be very successful,” Rodriguez said. “Our hopes for this coming year would be some community service events to get the MAPS name out in the community and hopefully hold more events that will bring us closer with the UNR School of Medicine.”
The club plans to spend the upcoming spring semester recruiting new members, earning its national recognition with SNMA, executing regular meetings with both students and healthcare professionals, and hosting motivational speakers. They hope to recruit 100 undergraduates by Fall 2021.
Inspired by personal experience
Rodriguez’s personal experience drew her to the medical field and influenced her decision to launch the MAPS chapter.
“From my cultural background of being Mexican-American, I naturally grew up with a network of unconditional support regardless of the goal,” Rodriguez said. “When coming to the University of Nevada, Reno my first year, I wanted to create something that gave me that similar familiarity with a group of individuals who had the same ambitions as I did in the medical field. MAPS provides the minority community on campus the sense of support they need to achieve their medical dreams.”
Rodriguez was drawn to the field of medicine after watching her grandmother battle stage four colon cancer.
“The journey was long and painful, but the amount of care and unconditional support her doctors gave her was indescribable,” Rodriguez said. “Because of those doctors that saved her life, she stands cancer free for the last 10 years. The impact they had on not only myself but on our entire family was the determining factor that drew me to the medical field. I wanted to make that same impact on others.”
Rodriguez became the first in her family to attend college. Pursuing a biology degree with pre-medical ambitions is a challenging path for any student. As a first-generation college student, Rodriguez had to navigate much of the experience without the experienced advice of a family member.
“What was most influential in driving me to bring MAPS to the University of Nevada, Reno was noticing the number of first-generation students on campus, like myself,” Rodriguez said. “My journey to college was difficult. As the first in my family to attend college, I struggled to figure out all the steps to become an undergraduate student. Upon attending the University, I found many of my peers had the same struggles I did and had the same ambitions of becoming professionals in the medical field.”
By founding the University’s first MAPS chapter, Rodriguez has provided a welcoming community and set of resources for students in search of a little extra support as they pursue an incredibly challenging and equally rewarding education.
Getting involved in MAPS
With plans to begin regular meetings and activities in the spring, MAPS is ready to welcome new members. The club is currently run by students Alejandra Rodriguez (President), Crystal Vargas (Vice-President), Menen Ashagrie (Treasurer), and Jackie Vallo (Secretary), and the MAPS advisor is Gina K. Sella. Interested students may reach out via the club email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by contacting the club advisor, Gina Sella, at email@example.com.