The first day Micheal Thomas ‘17 set foot in the United States was the evening of the Fourth of July in 2011. It was after sunset and the fireworks had already started.
“It was surreal,” Thomas said. “In Jamaica, the roads are damaged compared to Flint. When I came here I was sailing on the freeway -- taking in the moment.”
Thomas was arriving from Clarendon, Jamaica to participate in the Academically Interested Minds (AIM) program at Kettering University. In retrospect, the fireworks that greeted Thomas were foreshadowing for his future career at Kettering which will culminate in a President’s Medal on Saturday, June 17 followed by a journey out west to attend the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Ever since he was 11 years old in Clarendon, Jamaica, Thomas has been referred to as “doctor” by teachers and peers who are closest to him. He declared his intention to pursue medicine during a sixth grade assignment and has never wavered from or doubted his journey since.
In Jamaica, students may attend medical school at the University of West Indies immediately after high school. This was Thomas’ projected path until he heard about AIM at Kettering while in 11th grade.
“AIM was an opportunity to have a better education,” Thomas said.
Alcoa Corporation was looking to sponsor two students from Jamaica to attend the AIM program that summer. Over 50 high school students applied and Thomas was fortunate enough to be one of two individuals to receive a scholarship and funding for AIM.
Thomas participated in AIM in 2011 which also marked the first time he visited the United States.
“I was coming for the experience,” Thomas said. “When I got here, my expectation was to enjoy it and meet new people.”
While participating in the summer program, Thomas discovered additional AIM scholarship opportunities to attend Kettering. Thomas finished in the top-tier of his AIM class in order to become eligible for these opportunities.
He earned the AIM scholarship and returned to campus as an undergraduate student in 2012. Thomas majored in Biochemistry with minors in Economics and Biology, and completed his co-op as a scribe at Hurley Medical Center in Flint where his passion to pursue medicine was once again affirmed.
At Hurley, Thomas witnessed firsthand the patient-doctor interactions, the administrative operations of a hospital and viewed multiple surgeries and procedures in the operating room, burn unit and pediatrics.
“I teach to all the pre-med students on our campus and Micheal was one of the students that stood out,” said Dr. Montserrat Rabago-Smith, associate professor of Bio-organic Chemistry. “During this time I had several conversations with Micheal and every time I was amazed about how much he knew about the medical profession but most importantly how passionate he was about it. Becoming a doctor was his dream.”
During academic terms, Thomas pursued research alongside Rabago-Smith since his freshman year at Kettering. He developed skills in Molecular Biology techniques and computational modeling. He presented research at numerous conferences including the Michigan Academy of Science Arts and Letters and American Chemical Society. Thomas collaborated with Hurley Medical Center on his thesis which focused on the relationship between congestive heart failure (CHF) and the protein cytochrome c.
"Micheal is a highly engaged student whose passion for science is evident in everything he does,” said Dr. Veronica Moorman, assistant professor of Biochemistry. “He is always wanting to learn more and is constantly thinking about how this knowledge can help others."
On May 3, 2017, Thomas received a call from a California number. In the back of his head, he thought it might be a good thing.
“The person on the other side said ‘how’s your day going? I hope I can make it better,’” Thomas said.
It was UCLA. He had been accepted to medical school. But Thomas still didn’t believe it. He tentatively told his parents that same day but was still in disbelief until he got the official letter the next day in the online portal he had been checking practically every day before he got that call.
“I was trying to understand if any of it was real,” Thomas said. “It was rewarding to know that I put in all this work and it’s finally going to take me where I hoped it would.”
Thomas’ Kettering career will culminate with the President’s Medal -- one of the highest honors on campus -- that recognizes scholarship, professionalism on the job and community involvement. In addition to this academic achievements, Thomas has been an integral member of Kagle Leadership Initiatives, is a co-founder of the Jamaican AIM Alumni Scholarship (JAAS) and was engaged in volunteering with Communities First in Flint.
“The thing with Kettering is that it helps you focus because it’s so fast-paced. The intensity of the curriculum drives you forward by encouraging you to mature and develop,” Thomas said. “Professors in my department also helped by tailoring the lessons to individuals interested in medicine. When you are learning in class and go to work in the hospital, you are able to connect it.”
Now that he’s achieved his childhood dream of attending medical school, Thomas is adjusting his focus to follow up on his undergraduate thesis and focus on pursuing cardiology. He’s fascinated with the mechanics of the heart and desires to study different factors that influence heart disease.
“When Micheal arrived on campus, he was determine to do well academically and to get accepted into a medical school,” said Ricky Brown, Director of AIM at Kettering. “Now, four years later, he has accomplished both of those goals. In my 26 years at Kettering, he is truly one of the brightest graduates I've ever worked with.”