Dorcas Ruhamya was terrified when Assoc. Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie asked her to come to her office after Organic Chemistry I.

When Ruhamya, an honors and premed biology major, arrived, Reddie invited her to join MAGIC, a program to help students from underrepresented groups succeed in health care careers.

Reddie then quizzed Ruhamya, a sophomore from Worcester, Massachusetts, about the grades she’d earned in her first-year premed classes – and told her she needed to do better if she wanted to get into the Baccalaureate to M.D. Pathway Program (Bacc-M.D.) at UMass Chan Medical School, which prepares students from underrepresented groups for medical school.

“I was asking myself, ‘How is my mother on campus?’” Ruhamya laughs.

Together, they outlined a plan of study. Ruhamya would go to the Centers for Learning for tutoring every day. She would also attend MAGIC’s weekly meetings and organic chemistry tutoring sessions – and ace all her other science classes.

“I used everything Prof. Reddie recommended, and it came out great!” says Ruhamya, who earned an A in Organic Chemistry I and lifted her GPA to the level she needed to apply to the Bacc-M.D. program. “She raised me so fast, in one semester. She was really the pivotal point of my education journey.”

Ruhamya received a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship to do research the summer after her first year of college and worked with Biology Prof. Frederic Chain, analyzing the genomes of a single fish species to see if specimens taken from different rivers had evolved different genetic sequences.

Reddie encouraged Ruhamya to apply to be a “Science Scholar” through a Kennedy College of Sciences program that places undergraduates in research labs from sophomore through senior year. Ruhamya, who aspires to be a pediatric cancer specialist, says she hopes to get more research experience in genetics or oncology.

She’s also working hard on her skills in critical thinking and writing by taking additional English classes. A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, she is fluent in French and Swahili; English is her third language.

“In the medical field, I’m always going to be writing a lot,” she says. “I want to get better at it.”

Ruhamya says MAGIC is more than a tutoring program. It’s also a supportive community where she’s learning from the student tutors and her peers about everything from applying for scholarships to writing a personal statement.

“You meet people who understand your journey – in fact, you’re on the same journey with them,” she says. “I’ve met friends who are really my mentors. When I’m in the room with them, I’m a sponge.”

When Ruhamya told Reddie that she was interested in becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) so that she could get hospital experience, Reddie referred her to one of the MAGIC tutors who had already done that – and tutor Sophie Wieselquist walked Ruhamya through the application process.

“Prof. Reddie built this community, and she just put me in there, in that room, believing that I would learn enough,” Ruhamya says. “She works so hard that I had no reason to fail.”

Ruhamya earned her CNA credential over the winter break and is applying for jobs working with cancer patients while she finishes her bachelor’s degree.

“I’m on fire now,” she says. “I’m happy.”