Roanoke resident Alena McQuarter was accepted into medical school at 13 years old.

Now, she is heading to college in California to earn her Ph.D. Eventually, Alena, age 15, wants to earn her doctorate of medicine.

For her accomplishments in academics and business, she received a key to the city of Roanoke at the June 25 City Council meeting.

The details

Alena recently graduated with honors and received her master's degree from Arizona State University, where she majored in biology, according to a city news release. Concurrently, Alena obtained her bachelor’s degree, graduating summa cum laude, majoring in biomedical sciences with a minor in global health. At age 13, she was the youngest African American to ever be accepted to medical school at the University of Alabama Heersink School of Medicine, the release states.

Alena will be pursuing a Ph.D in integrated biomedical sciences with a focus on infection, immunity and inflammation at Loma Linda University in California this fall before going on to obtain her doctor of medicine.

In addition, at age 12, Alena, who comes from a homeschooling background, became the youngest person of color to intern at NASA, and she went on to begin the Brown STEM Girl Foundation to provide resources and access to other girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math while encouraging them to pursue careers in the field.

What they’re saying

"We are incredibly proud to have such a talented and driven young individual like Alena as part of our community. Her dedication, intelligence and entrepreneurial vision inspire us all, and we are honored to recognize her achievements," Mayor Scooter Gierisch said in the release.

Alena answered some questions from media after she was honored at the meeting.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

What do you hope other people take away by seeing your example tonight?

I really hope they take away that hard work and really pursuing anything that you put your mind to can bring you to places like this or wherever you want to be in life.

Is it a bittersweet moment or is it an emotional moment that the fact that you’re moving on, as one door opens, another one closes?

I think it really is bittersweet. I feel like I am moving on to the next phase of my life, that I’m going on to new heights and trying new things. But also ... I love to be here. It’s really, like, a big stepping stone for me to get this opportunity.

How would you describe your dreams today?

They’re pretty big. There are so many different things that I’m looking to accomplish. ... There are many responsibilities that come along the journey. I’m leaving my hometown to go find out who I really am and what I really want to do.