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Early start benefits student on way to medical career

November 21, 2022


WINONA, Minn. — Homecoming week — and all the activities that come with it — are a major highlight for any high school student, especially for seniors. When Matthew Schell was a senior at Lewiston-Altura High School, he missed most of the homecoming fanfare as he was studying for college midterms at Saint Mary’s University instead.

Looking back, the Altura, Minn., native says he doesn’t regret it. The experience helped prepare and propel him toward a successful undergraduate experience. And, it helped him get into a competitive cancer research program at South Dakota State University.

Schell was dual enrolled at Saint Mary’s as part of Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. The PSEO program allows motivated high school juniors and seniors the chance to earn college credit while completing high school graduation requirements.

Growing up the son of a veterinarian, Schell always gravitated toward the medical field. Early on, though, he came to realize the veterinary sciences weren’t for him.

“I liked the human aspect of medicine,” he said. “And having a love of STEM and chemistry, I really knew medical school would be my best course of action.”

With the lofty goal of medical school, Schell soon started looking into ways he could advance his goal. The obvious option was Minnesota’s PSEO program.

“I didn’t find myself being challenged in my coursework in high school, so I began looking at options where I could get the challenge I wanted while also better preparing myself for a future career,” he said.

Having had a brother who enrolled at Saint Mary’s as a part of the PSEO program, and knowing the “rigor and challenge” of its academic offerings, Schell said knowing where to enroll was an easy decision. At Saint Mary’s, Schell was able to take care of a majority of his general education requirements like English and history, while also being able to dive head-first into entry-level biology and chemistry courses. The opportunity to take these courses vaulted him in his ability to succeed as a full-time undergraduate student.

Now a first-year undergraduate student at South Dakota State University, Schell is studying biochemistry, pre-medicine, and psychology, and, as a first-year, was selected to take part in research on campus, something he said he would not have been able to achieve without his experience in the PSEO program at Saint Mary’s.

“Dr. Scott Carnahan, my chemistry professor (at Saint Mary’s), prepared me for my courses like organic and analytic chemistry and really helped me land a research position that I’m working with right now,” he said. “The research focuses a lot in the area of biology, so my (PSEO college) courses with Dr. Matthew Rowley really helped me get a fundamental understanding of what I’m working on.”

Currently, Schell and his team are researching how cancerous cells react to drugs that are synthesized by another lab on campus.

“It’s really great work we’re doing,” he said. “And as soon as the research is published, I believe it will really help a lot in where we’re able to go in the future in regards to fighting cancer because every little bit of information is critical.”
Schell says his time at Saint Mary’s has aided him outside of the classroom and research lab as well.

“My experience at Saint Mary’s helped me be able to balance coursework and extracurriculars. And learning that experience early on helped me get ahead of my classes at the beginning of the semester,” he said. “And because Saint Mary’s has such a diverse community, I’ve been able to work with a variety of people and have been able to understand diverse perspectives, while also being able to grow myself and develop my own perspectives.”

Schell encourages anyone considering the PESO program to pursue it.

“I believe any individual who goes through the program can have the same positive experience as me,” he said.