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Alyssa Patterson, TTU

UNMASKING: Alyssa Patterson

Thanks to Scholarships, MCATs Are In Reach

Written by Toni Salama

When Alyssa Patterson took the podium at the Houston Racquet Club, she did so as a confident pre-med biology junior. Alyssa was there as the guest speaker for the Oct. 4 College of Arts & Sciences Houston Alumni Scholarship Reception. It was a speech she would never have given if not for the scholarships she herself has received and the remarkable path such generosity has made possible for her. Her story might all too easily have been far less stellar.

"Without the scholarships, I definitely wouldn't be here at Texas Tech," Alyssa says of the difference donors' giving has made in her life. "I wouldn't be in college at all. I wouldn't even be in community college."

An Impossible Dream

Alyssa's mother, Annette Patterson, always encouraged her eldest daughter toward a solid future. Her father, Andrew Patterson III, had big dreams for Alyssa, too. But it didn't seem possible to reach for the stars from Shepherd, Texas. The town of 2,300 people, about 60 miles north of Houston on US 59, is a 20-minute drive from the nearest community college. Yet, in the Patterson home, every dollar was hard-earned, so the family car was needed for work.

And Alyssa did work. During her high-school years, the student who would graduate with a 3.9 GPA worked summers as a front-desk assistant at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), where Annette could drop Alyssa off on the way to her own job. Given the transportation challenge, it was beginning to look like Alyssa might pursue a full-time office job at TxDOT after high school graduation.

A Ray of Hope

Then, during her senior year, she received an invitation to a Red Raider Road Show, where she learned that scholarships available in the College of Arts & Sciences would take her farther than a commuter car ever could.

Because of those scholarships, Alyssa now is a profoundly successful Red Raider: a junior biology major preparing to take the MCAT entrance exam to medical school and working toward double-minors in chemistry and Spanish—all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Alyssa chose Texas Tech without ever touring the campus. What she learned during the road show was enough, and it didn't hurt that she would have the comfort of her best friend enrolling at Tech as well. She lived in student housing during her first two years here. And now that she has moved to off-campus housing, she rides the bus to school.

"Scholarships have covered everything," she says.

Returning the Favor

As a scholarship recipient, Alyssa believes in giving back in ways that have the potential to benefit donors and the wider community. This full-time student volunteers a few hours each week at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC)/University Medical Center (UMC). She started as a health unit coordinator, working with nurses in answering patient calls. Now she delivers patient specimens to lab technicians and answers phones.

"When you give to support student scholarships, it should come back to benefit you somehow, come back on you in a good way," Alyssa says.

She also is employed on campus as a student assistant in the College of Arts & Sciences' Dean's Office, a job she landed after first working as a student assistant in the Texas Tech University Libraries.

Working Toward the Future

As a student, Alyssa conducts undergraduate research in the neurobiology lab of Karen Alviña, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Alyssa is studying videos of research already conducted by graduate students, in which mice were subjected to early life stressors, then compared to control mice to see whether the stressed mice exhibit different behaviors than the controls.

"I was fascinated by the idea of how early life stressors might affect later behavior," Alyssa says. "That is why I asked to be in Dr. Alviña's lab."

The pre-med student isn't sure exactly what kind of doctor she wants to be yet—that decision will come later—but she is sure that she wants to get to medical school sooner rather than later. By taking additional classes she has moved her original graduation date from May 2020 up to December 2019.

So Many Open Doors

Speaking at the Houston Alumni Scholarship Reception has been one of many proud Arts & Sciences moments for Alyssa. Her mother and several aunts were able to attend that event and, she says, "I was so happy to make my mom proud of me." Another rewarding experience came in Dallas at "Unmasking Innovation: An Evening with President George W. Bush." Alyssa say she never imagined she would get to meet a former president of the United States.

One of the few among her cousins to attend college, Alyssa wants her younger sister and brother, now in their teens, to have the opportunity to follow in her footsteps. She knows it's an opportunity that will be possible only through the continuing generosity of those who donate to scholarships.

"I hope people see how grateful I am," Alyssa says. "I'm saying, 'Thank you for putting your faith in my dreams,' and that everyone who is helped by scholarships feels the same gratitude."

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