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The Gift of Opportunity: Scholarship Ignites Alumna’s Ambition

Isabela Stemple (B.S.‘23, Biological Sciences) first came to the United States as an international high school exchange student. Growing up in her home country of Brazil, her hope of pursuing higher education in America burned brightly, but the cost of doing so threatened to dampen her aspirations. Isabela Graduate

“I knew that my family couldn’t really afford for me to go to college here, so it was just a dream of mine,” she said.

Because Isabela excelled during her high school exchange year, she decided to apply to Western Michigan University on a whim. Little did she know that pivotal decision would change her life when WMU granted her an annual scholarship from the Haenicke Institute for Global Education to cover the cost of tuition.

That transformative scholarship allowed Isabela to stay in the U.S. and chase her dream of earning a college degree. “From the moment I started, I felt supported,” she said.

Isabela dove headfirst into her academic pursuits. She’d always excelled in math and physics, so when her friends and family told her she’d thrive in the engineering field, she took their words to heart. She originally applied to WMU’s civil engineering program, but life had other plans. A Western Essential Studies biology course with Dr. Monica McCullough opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in medicine.

“When I started at Western was really the first time that I stopped to think if I actually wanted to be an engineer,” she said. “After reflecting on engineering and what my career would look like, I realized I really didn’t want to be an engineer. So, at that point, I started shadowing physicians and volunteering at my local hospital, which was Ascension Borgess, and that’s when I decided to go the pre-med route.”

Isabela credits the discovery of her passion in health care to Dr. McCullough and Dr. Wendy Beane, associate professor of biological sciences, who she worked with in her undergraduate research program. “I worked in research for about three years with Dr. Beane, which I loved. I think it was my first exposure to what a research lab looks like and how it functions. I definitely value that a lot. It was my first time working on actual experiments. Everyone in the lab, they were great mentors to me throughout my time at Western,” she said.

Western’s flexibility is also something Isabela appreciated. Switching gears from engineering to pre-med likely wouldn’t have been feasible for her had she attended university in Brazil.

Isabela SangrenSince graduating in 2023, she continues to push the limits of her academic achievements. Isabela studied rigorously for the MCAT and scored in the 99th percentile of all test takers. “I learned how to speak English only about six years ago. I never really thought I’d be able to score that high,” she said.

This outstanding performance on her medical exams led to Isabela’s acceptance into some of the top medical schools in the country, including John Hopkins School of Medicine and Vanderbilt School of Medicine.

Her journey hasn’t been an easy one, no doubt. Isabela blazed a trail as the first in her family to pursue medicine, navigating her undergraduate program with her loved ones a continent away. “I had to learn everything by myself along the way,” she said.  

As Isabela enters her next chapter, one thing’s for certain: no matter where her ambition leads her, we’re beyond proud to call her a Bronco!

Western Michigan University currently enrolls more than 1,800 international students (Spring 2020), representing over 100 countries. The top-five countries (alpha order) typically sending international students to WMU are: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, India, People’s Republic of China, Dominican Republic and Iraq.

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[This story is brought to you by Elliot VerLee, one of the students we're grateful to have sharing their talents with us right now at the WMU Alumni Association. Way to go, Elliot!]