KGI Alumnus Alejandro Quinones Baltazar Middle School Students PharmCAMP

KGI Alumnus Alejandro Quiñones Baltazar Speaks to Rialto Middle School Students on the Importance of Persistence and Purpose for PharmCAMP

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) alumnus Alejandro Quiñones Baltazar, PPC ’20 — who is currently a first-year student at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in the Program in Medical Education for Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA) — was recently hosted as a speaker for a STEM event for Rialto Middle School students as part of KGI’s PharmCAMP. For Quiñones Baltazar, this represented a full-circle moment.

As the child of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in Lynwood—a city in southeast Los Angeles—and participated in the California Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program at the Lynwood Unified School District, which was created for the children of migrant agricultural workers. The program provides bilingual services, assisting families with school registration, tutoring, educational field trips, summer programs, and academic advising.

This program proved instrumental throughout his formative years. A pivotal moment came when Quiñones Baltazar was in middle school.

His mother was talking to one of the teachers and expressed doubt that she could afford to send her four children to college. Given the scholarship opportunities, the teacher assured her this goal was well within her reach.

“For her, this was mind-blowing,” Quiñones Baltazar said.

“Looking back on it now, we all ended up in college—all because of that teacher who told my mom about the possibility and guided her through the whole process.”

Today, his older brother is a surgical technician, while his younger brother and sister are both pursuing careers in healthcare.

Now he is paying it forward by speaking to students from similar communities where he grew up, who are also at a pivotal point in their lives.

PharmCAMP engages primary and secondary school students in STEM through fun, interactive educational activities. Participants primarily come from districts with low average high school graduation rates, socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and minority groups typically underrepresented in STEM careers.

“When I prepared to speak with them, I thought about where I was in middle school,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “Even though we had an under-resourced school district, my teachers were amazing. They did their best to teach us STEM and instill that curiosity in us. I liked the idea—wearing a lab coat and seeing smoke from the test tube. But then, when I got to high school, STEM was hard.”

He remembered struggling with biology and chemistry. Additionally, his home environment was only sometimes the most conducive for studying.

“I lived with my parents, three siblings, and grandparents in a one-bedroom home, and my siblings and I had to share beds,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “We didn’t have a desk to do my homework, so I had to use an ironing board.”

Additionally, his parents did not speak English, so he had to act as an interpreter during parent-teacher conferences. 

“I knew that the students I was speaking to would be able to relate, as many of them are in similar situations,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “But I also told them that even if you don’t have the best resources at home, it’s still possible to pursue your goals.”

He also emphasized that even if something is difficult at first, you can improve if you work hard and seek support.

“Your teachers care about you and will help you along that journey,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “Even though I didn’t do so well in bio at first, I realized it’s a skill you can practice. I knew I wanted to pursue a science degree, and I didn’t let the obstacles stop me.”

He participated in pipeline programs involving chemistry, biology, and pre-calculus courses to improve in these areas.

“By the time I started college, I had already seen chemistry and biology three times,” Quiñones Baltazar said.

“I practiced these areas so much that eventually, I became good, just through repetition and the willingness to keep learning.”

He also emphasized to the students the importance of having a strong “why.”

“Early on, as a middle school student, my main motivation for becoming a physician was to help my family out of our economic situation,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “That was my goal up to college, and it’s still my goal.”

Now, his goal has expanded. He wants to help his family, advocate for and give back to his community.

“After I spoke, one of the students came up to me and stated confidently that she wanted to become a doctor, asking questions about what that journey looks like,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “Another student began speaking about the science workshops with me in Spanish.”

These moments help reinforce his purpose and connect back to his goal of inspiring future generations of healthcare providers.

Quiñones Baltazar’s clear vision is now guiding him through medical school. Once again, he has found that he can reach out to others for support when navigating these challenges.

“Medical school is difficult, but I’m not alone—my peers and I are all in it together—and we can support each other and share our successes,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “Having others alongside me makes this journey much more enjoyable.”

While participating in an early clinical experience in the Family Medicine department of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, physicians discussed researching resources available to the community. Quiñones Baltazar remembered Lynwood’s Community Resource Center.

“I then had the opportunity to return to Lynwood to visit my community center, but as a medical student, and learn about the health and social needs of my community,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “At first, I wondered if I should walk in with my white coat because I didn’t want to create a barrier with my community. But then I realized that people there hardly ever see a Latino in a white coat.”

When he walked in, the people at the community center recognized him. Quiñones Baltazar said, 

“For me, that has been the highlight of my medical career up to this point—to return to the community I came from, but as a medical student.” 

This aspect of the community is something that Quiñones Baltazar valued as a student in KGI’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program. He communicates closely with his classmates and advisors—Program Director and former Assistant Director Joon Kim and Elba Muñoz.

One experience that prepared him well for medical school was acting as Clinical Coordinator for the Pomona Free Clinic, which taught him how to engage in community outreach through partnerships.

“KGI is a great example of how you build community within a school,” Quiñones Baltazar said. “My peers came from all these different programs, but we still worked together. And the support didn’t end when I graduated from KGI—it remains with me to this day.”