GECMS provides first-generation college student with a degree and path toward a career in surgery
Chandandeep Chahil says one of her goals while at the Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences (GECMS) is to set an example for her three younger siblings. She wants them to understand that they can do anything they want when they put their mind to it. After all, Chahil is well on her way to achieving that for herself.
The 16-year-old is in the biotechnology pathway, which is one of the school’s most rigorous programs. It dawned on her recently that she is a first-generation college student as she looks ahead to graduating from high school in 2024 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in biotechnology from Gaston College.
“My parents are originally from Punjab, India,” she said. “They came here in the early 2000s before I was even born. It’s strange to think that I’ll be the first person in my family to get a college degree.”
Chahil said her mother, who runs her own business as a seamstress, and her father, who is a store manager, are very supportive of her and her siblings.
“I know they’re very proud of me and the work that I’m doing,” she said. “I want to make them proud every day.”
Chahil attended one year of high school at South Point High School in Belmont before enrolling at the Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences, which is located on the Gaston College campus in Dallas. The GECMS opened in August 2021. Her older sister attends Highland School of Technology, and Chahil says they have gotten to experience high school in a unique and challenging way.
“Going to school here is very different,” she said. “There are fewer students in each grade level, and your classes are geared more toward what you want to do as a career. When I applied to attend school here, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, and the classes I’m taking have only cemented my interest in that field.”
Not only does she stay busy studying for her favorite class, which is anatomy, Chahil is active in the community because she believes in making a difference and giving back to support others. In addition to balancing all of her school work – she says she has to study a lot for anatomy class, she works as a teacher assistant at Kumon Math and Reading Center in Belmont, serves as Speaker of the House for the GECMS Student Government Association, and also volunteers with Teens Changing Gaston County, an philanthropic organization that engages young people in community projects.
Last summer, she was chosen to attend Summer Ventures and spent three weeks at East Carolina University, working in a lab setting and getting a taste of the medical field. She said opportunities to attend programs like Summer Ventures bring her focus back to her family.
“I want my siblings to see that they can do anything that they want to do in life whether that’s going to school and achieving great things or getting involved in the community and helping others,” said Chahil.
As for her future, Chahil says she still has a lot to figure out, but knows she has the time and resources to plan ahead.
“As a junior, I’m looking at a couple of different schools already,” she said. “Chapel Hill, of course, Johns Hopkins, too. I don’t really know what kind of surgery I want to do yet so I’m still taking classes here to figure out what I love the most.”
When it comes to whether she made the right decision about attending the Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences, Chahil is quick to answer.
“Moving from everything you know at one high school to a brand new experience was really hard,” she said. “The idea of change is really scary, and you wonder if you’re even good enough to make it into a program like this one, but I just had to take the plunge. I’m so glad that I did.”