Daryle LaMonica enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, where – by his own admission – he’d been a lackluster student.
“I enlisted to get technical training, employable experience, guidance, discipline, leadership and mentorship – all the things I knew that I needed, because I knew that academics didn’t suit me,” he says.
That was eight years ago. Now he’s an honors biology major with a minor in public health, and he’s on the fast track to becoming a doctor through the UMass Baccalaureate to M.D. Pathway Program (BaccMD). The program prepares diverse UMass undergraduates to succeed at UMass Medical School through intensive summer programs and more.
The discipline of the Marine Corps led LaMonica to discover that he could succeed at academics. After enlisting, he took a test that qualified him to train as a radar technician, so the Marines sent him to technical school for nine months. The radar school had a 40 percent dropout rate – but LaMonica excelled.
After that, he went from strength to strength, winning promotions and completing a strenuous training course to become a martial arts instructor. Within a short time, he earned his black belt.
“It was really empowering,” he says. “But I received a lot of injuries.”
One of those injuries required shoulder surgery. That led LaMonica to end his military career after the requisite five years. It also pointed him in a new direction: college and medical school to become a heart and lung surgeon, paid for by his V.A. vocational rehabilitation benefits.
“I loved my job, but something was missing. I realized I wanted to go to school,” he says now. “I had a life epiphany. I dove in the deep end.”
That meant applying to UMass Lowell, which offered him provisional acceptance through the Reserved Placement Program, provided he successfully completed a semester at a community college first.
Once again, he was determined to excel. He went to North Shore Community College, where he did so well that he was accepted into UML’s Honors College.
Here on campus, his pre-med advisor helped him apply to the BaccMD Program. LaMonica, a first-generation college student, was accepted. He recently completed his first intensive training, a four-week summer “boot camp” in physics, communication skills and preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test. He also got to shadow some doctors.
LaMonica and two other UMass Lowell undergraduates in his BaccMD class – biology major Andrea Shehaj and history major Dominick Taveras – won first place among the summer Medical Scholars for their health disparities project, which focused on HIV/AIDS among Latinos in Massachusetts.
Successful completion of the summer program and strong fall term grades will qualify LaMonica to apply for provisional acceptance to UMass Medical School during his junior year. Those provisions include fulfilling other requirements, including a summer clinical immersion program before his senior year.
A longtime volunteer for animal welfare groups, halfway house programs and hospitals, LaMonica now volunteers at Lowell General Hospital in the day surgery unit and as a mentor for Thrive Communities, a nonprofit that supports people returning to the community from jail or prison.
LaMonica has already completed most of his honors requirements, and he’s getting a head start on his honors capstone by doing research at Thrive, along with Asst. Teaching Prof. Amy Smalarz of UML’s Public Health Department, on social factors that play a role in health.
In his spare time, he’s reading books recommended by Honors Dean Jim Canning, including “Silas Marner” by George Eliot, “to plug holes in my education,” as well as books with medical themes assigned through the BaccMD book club. “I have a new appreciation for arts and the humanities,” he says.