Student Spotlight: Tsige Gebreslasse

Tsige Gebreslasse

Tsige Gebreslasse
Major: Biology 

After completing medical school, Tsige Gebreslasse is planning to return to Ethiopia, her birth country, to serve people and bring about change.

Born and raised in the small town of Nebelet in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Gebreslasse, with the help of her older brother, came to the U.S. with her younger brother in 2005 at the age of 16.

“When my parents told me we were going to the U.S., I didn’t even know what the U.S. was,” said Gebreslasse. “I came here knowing no English and started with children’s books from the library, making lists of words to memorize.”

While Gebreslasse started as a freshman at Wheaton North High School, she quickly discovered that the material was too simple and, despite only just learning to speak English, tested out of the ninth grade. She then entered the second semester as a junior. After graduating in 2007, she spent the summer between high school and college preparing for and earning her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) licensure, a credential she said enabled her to earn money while pursuing an education.

While working as a CNA, Gebreslasse enrolled at College of DuPage and went on to earn an Associate in Science degree concentrating on Biology. She then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Wheaton College and is currently a medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

Gebreslasse said that while she has had an interest in science and medicine since she was a child, she was also drawn to teaching. She chose medicine because of the variety of opportunities to make an impact.

“Medicine enables me to do several things at once,” she said. “I can teach, treat patients and advocate for them. Doctors are also highly respected in society and that status gives them greater opportunity to bring about change.”

At the end of 2015, she served a one-month medical rotation in General/Trauma Surgery at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. The trip was in support of her long-term goal of returning permanently to Ethiopia after completing her medical residency in the U.S. When she returns to Ethiopia, she hopes to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and work in the Department of Medical Education.

“Everything I do is to prepare me to go back and help,” she said. “Doing an early rotation will help me decide what area of medicine I should specialize in and understand how the health system works in Ethiopia and whether or not I will be able to function in that system. Being there in person is the only way to make connections and truly experience Ethiopian health care.

“I want to serve and I have the opportunity to make a real difference,” she said. “It’s difficult to bring about change in the U.S. because the founding fathers here laid out the foundation so well. By comparison, Ethiopia is in its infancy and there is opportunity for intelligent, passionate and interested people to make change and work on laying out a strong foundation for the future.”

She said that there is an additional factor for those who wish to serve through medicine.

“You have to love humanity,” she said. “You will meet with people who are at their most vulnerable and must trust you with their lives and hold you accountable. Health care providers must be aware of the depth of that responsibility.”

Gebreslasse said that while not well-educated, her mother taught her early on about the importance of a good education.

“When you’ve earned an education and in the process learned how to think critically and intelligently, no one can take that from you,” she said. “It is yours for life.”

Gebreslasse is especially pleased with her experiences at College of DuPage.

“I loved my time at COD,” she said. “It was a great start at my own pace and provided an education that has been a wonderful foundation for everything I’ve learned since then. I also experienced undergraduate research opportunities that I don’t think I would have received anywhere else.”

The hands-on lab work as well as the supportive faculty and staff were particularly helpful to Gebreslasse.

“The practical elements taught in the lab at COD were things I’d never seen. In my home country, it was all theory,” she said. “In particular, Chemistry professor Richard Jarman was very helpful. He introduced me to research, helped set me up with my first paid internship at Illinois State University and connected me with STEM Engine, an undergraduate research collaborative that helped me connect with a variety of four-year colleges. COD Counselor Michael Duggan has also been supportive of me and really opened doors. He believed in me and guided me through everything. I don’t think I would have received that support and opportunity at any other school.”

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