Says Mission College Was Gate to Medical School
Juan Carlos Pelayo enrolled in Mission College in 1996, all he
wanted to do was take and pass a physiology class. If he did, he might
be able to move up from his job as a licensed vocational nurse to a more
secure and better-paying job as a registered nurse.
Pelayo could not have
imagined then that, eight years later, he would be on the verge of graduating
from the prestigious UC San Francisco School of Medicine with a career
as a surgeon before him.
Carlos Pelayo during rotations at UCSF School of Medicine
He credits his experience
at Mission College and several instructors with helping him realize his
"I was a horrible
high school student, not really very focused," he recalled. "I
think the idea of being a doctor was maybe somewhere in the back of my
mind, but it just seemed so unrealistic."
A much more
realistic goal after high school, he thought, was to go to occupational
school and become an LVN. When he signed up for Mike Reynolds physiology
class at Mission College, Pelayo saw it as a short-term step that would
enhance his nursing career. But Reynolds saw something else.
"He took a test for me," recalled Reynolds, "and his answers
were so superior, I pulled him aside and asked him about his plans. He
told me about his nursing goals, and I said he should definitely aim higher
at least a university degree, for starters."
Pelayo took the advice to heart, partly because he discovered a fascination
with biology. Soon, his one-class deal with Mission College evolved into
a full scientific program that included chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
Two years after enrolling, he earned an Associates degree in biology
and transferred to California State University, Northridge, where he earned
a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology in 2001. He was admitted
to a slew of medical schools, including his first choice, UCSF.
Sitting now in a student housing apartment in the Twin Peaks area of San
Francisco, cradling his six-month-old son Alejandro, Pelayo still has
deep feelings for Mission College.
"I cant emphasize enough the importance of mentors and role
models," he said. "I didnt really have any in high school.
My parents hardly had any schooling in Mexico so they were happy just
to see me graduate from high school. They couldnt really advise
me about college."
At Mission, he found mentors aplenty in instructors Maria Fenyes, Reynolds,
Bob Smazenka, and Richard Rains, whom he describes as demanding teachers
but also individuals who counseled him to look to bigger goals beyond
Pelayo has just embarked on the complicated, often tense process of applying
for a residency. His preferred location is California. In fact, he would
like to remain in the Bay Area, where wife Marisol Luna (also a former
Mission College student) is a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.
His preferred specialization is surgery general at first but perhaps
leading to more specialized surgery that involves bio-research, such as
transplant or vascular surgery.
Pelayo believes high school students should try to go directly to university
if theyre ready and if they have family support."
In truth, many are not ready, either academically or socially for lack
"If you need time to figure things out, including who you are and
what you want from college, then a community college is the best way to
go," he said.
This is the advice that Pelayo gave to Bay Area middle and high school
students as part of an educational outreach program that he was part of
during his first two years of medical school. He would take anatomic models
(heart, lungs, brain, etc.) and explain their functions to the students.
The bigger goal, he said, was to counter the under-representation of minorities
in medicine and interest young students in the field.
Pelayo may never know if he turned any of those students toward medicine,
but its possible. After all, hed be the first to tell you
that a little mentoring can go a long way toward changing someones