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Student spotlight: Zena Simmons

Zena SimmonsBy Amanda Murphy

TAMPA — Gaining acceptance into a highly competitive medical program that only offers six spots is a challenging goal for any college student; Zena Simmons is pursuing it while pregnant with her fourth child.

A junior at the University of South Florida, Simmons is working on her prerequisites in medical technology and will apply for Tampa General Hospital’s program by the end of next year. If chosen, she will work in a laboratory with a team of doctors and nurses, making her potentially eligible to manage a lab herself in the future.

“I would love to work for the Tribe eventually, but I want to start at a hospital for the best experience,” Simmons, 28, said.

With three children to provide for and one more on the way, studying higher-level biology, chemistry, math and physics is no simple task. Originally from the Brighton Reservation, she had to move her family around to different locations for her education. But the fact that she is her children’s biggest role model is enough to keep her going.

“The fact that I have to provide for my children and show them that hard work pays off in the end is my inspiration,” Simmons said. “My children are descendants so they don’t get a lot of extra help.”

Simmons didn’t always know she wanted to be a medical technician. She originally got her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Florida Atlantic University but found that she preferred chemistry.

“I started taking chemistry classes and realized I liked working in the lab,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to help people.”

She advises high school students to have a plan or a general idea of what they want to study before they go to college.

“Try to get as much experience related to your field of study as possible, whether it be through volunteering or shadowing someone in that field,” Simmons said. “This will actually help you decide if your career of choice is something you will be happy doing.”

Simmons takes her own advice and has a backup plan: If she doesn’t get accepted into the medical technology program, she will apply for a master’s degree in a physician assistant program.

Despite the obstacles, Simmons sets high goals and settles for nothing less than achieving her dreams.

“I believe that when you are rewarded for something you work hard for, you will appreciate it much more,” she said.