Sisters Aim for Medical School and Beyond By Way of Academic Connections

By Jennifer McEntee

Sisters Amna Asiad and Myriam Asiad have a lot in common: they’re both hard-working students on the pre-med track, and they both love the diversity and amenities of the UC San Diego campus.

The two have another commonality. Both young women earned scholarships to participate in UC San Diego’s Academic Connections, a unique, three-week summer program that gives bright high school students a sneak peek at the college experience. Students selected for Academic Connections live on campus while meeting five hours a day for field trips and rigorous academic courses instructed by UC San Diego doctoral students.

Dr. Edward Abeyta, UC San Diego Extension’s associate dean for community engagement and director of its pre-collegiate and career preparations programs, says Imperial Valley students like the Asiad sisters are benefitting from a larger initiative to extend the campus’ regional and global reach. UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla has forged community partnerships designed to bring promising young minds to the UC San Diego campus.

In the five years since Academic Connections has been offered to Imperial Valley high schoolers, enrollment from that community has grown from 7 students to more than 40, according to Abeyta.

Amna says the Academic Connections program pushed her out of her comfort zone. She traveled from the small Imperial Valley border town of Calexico to UC San Diego’s La Jolla campus, leaving behind the comforts of home and family.

Amna’s experience in Academic Connections inspired Myriam to apply for the program a year later.

“My sister talked about what an enriching experience it was,” Myriam says. “I like the idea of being on my own, learning about something I really like, so I went for it.”

Amna is now in her first year as an undergraduate at UC San Diego studying human biology. Myriam is a senior at Calexico High School, and also hopes to study human biology at UC San Diego. The two recently talked with UC San Diego Extension about their time in Academic Connections.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Amna: I am currently a freshman on campus majoring in Human Biology. I am part of the MSA (Muslim Student Association) as well as AMSA (American Medical Student Association). I enjoy running; I was on the cross country and track team during high school. Likewise, I tend to do volunteer work in my community or paint during my free time.

Myriam: In high school, I’m taking Advanced Placement classes: biology, English literature, government and economics. I’m looking forward to track and field season, and I’m in a lot of on-campus clubs including Calexico High School’s Eco-Garden Club.

Why did you decide to pursue studies at UC San Diego?
Amna: I decided to attend UC San Diego for several reasons, one being Academic Connections. Through this program, I was able to gain a greater insight of where, what and if this college was the right choice for me. The first time I visited campus was when I was about 12 years old; I could not keep myself from wanting to see more of what UC San Diego had to provide. Likewise, UC San Diego is one of the top medical schools in the world as it provides many of the resources I hope to seek in the future.

Myriam: Fingers crossed, I hope to get accepted into UC San Diego. John Muir College is my first choice.

What did you learn in the Academic Connections class?
Amna: I took a “Neuroscience: From Brain to Behaviors” class in which I learned about the different parts of the brain and its communications. Also, I learned about how the nervous system mediates behavioral effects.

Myriam: I took the “Neuroscience: From Brain to Behaviors” course, too. We started with neurons and how they interact, then we went into different neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. I never learned so much in three weeks in my life!

What advice would you give to incoming Academic Connections students?
Amna: For all the incoming Academic Connections students, I dearly recommend exploring your options. Do not be afraid to try new things or hold yourself back from going out of your comfort zone. We all are eventually going to grow up and grow into our different career pathways so we may as well utilize our resources now. I personally was worried about being so far from home; however, I am thankful to have taken that large leap into college which I now consider my second home.

Myriam: You don’t need advice. Just do it. It was three weeks of pure heaven. It might be hectic and hard, but it was worth every second. I would go back any day.

How has your experience at Academic Connections changed (or improved) your life?
Amna: Academic Connections allowed me to explore my options as well as understand what college life is really like. I would not be the person I am today without the experience and great memories I gained during the program. I was socially, academically and mentally prepared to take a step into my next pathway, which was college.

Myriam: Has Academic Connections changed my life? A million, trillion times, yes. My work ethic now is beautiful. I know when I need to work, when I need to sleep, when I need to take a break. I learned hacks to retain all the knowledge. I kept in touch with professors so I have that help and support system. It’s the best college prep I could ever get.

Learn more about Academic Connections and other Pre-College programs online, or contact the department at or 858-534-0804.

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