UT Tyler Student’s Hard Work Pays Off

Chene SmithAfter graduating at the top her high school class, Chené Smith knew college was the next step, but money was a factor. A native of South Africa, she did not qualify for financial aid because she did not have a green card.

Determined not to let any of that be a hindrance, she decided to work it out – literally.

“My parents could not afford to pay for my education, so I worked 25 hours a week in high school and 40 hours a week throughout college while taking 18 – 21 hours a semester to help pay for my tuition,” said Smith.

This spring she graduated with a 4.0 in biology from UT Tyler, and in July she will begin medical school at Texas A&M University.

Smith will spend two years at Texas A&M in the classroom completing her basic sciences, and then perform her clinical studies at Scott and White Hospital in Temple.

“Even though medical genetics fascinates me, I plan to approach my medical studies with an open mind, aware of the diversity of opportunities that will present themselves. I will not make a final decision about my specialty until I have rotated through all the disciplines” said Smith. While at UT Tyler, she conducted research in genetic disorders using a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, as an initial approach to an area that she might consider as a specialty.

“UT Tyler really prepared me for medical school. Their biology program is probably one of the hardest in the state, plus I was able to obtain my education while making lifelong friendships and learning from professors who really care about their students,” said Smith.

Smith moved to Tyler from Pretoria, South Africa with her parents, brother and grandparents when she was 13 years old. Her father had co-invented a medical device in South Africa and needed approval from the FDA to market it globally. One of Smith’s aunts had moved to Tyler 10 years earlier.

“The medical device brought us to the United States, but my aunt brought us to Tyler. Plus, South Africa is such a dangerous place to live. There are a lot of violence, crime and racial issues, and no opportunities for someone who wants to be a doctor,” said Smith.

Smith says she has always known she wanted to be a doctor. Her mother died of breast cancer when she was 4 years old, and she wanted to do something so others would never have to experience losing their mother. Her stepmother worked at a South African medical school, and Smith, at an early age, was able to see doctors working.

Smith went back to South Africa last year to visit. She says she misses it, but recognizes that she now has two homes. South Africa is where it all began, and America is the continuation of her story.

Besides being determined to get her education, Smith has a positive attitude. “If you believe you can do it, you will. It all depends on how you look at life,” said Smith.

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