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Kalamazoo Becomes Home to Many Future Doctors

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From left, Heather Chen, Kevin Cates, Ana Villalobos, and Michelle Walker are pictured with the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine logo.

You've no doubt heard about Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, but have you heard about its students? How about why they chose Kalamazoo to pursue their medical degrees? We hadn't either, so we decided to pick the brains of a few of the incoming medical students to find out how Kalamazoo and the school, also known as WMed, connect with their education and social lives.

A short bio for each student is listed below followed by some of their responses.

Ana Villalobos is originally from Texas. Now living in Oshtemo, she earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Baylor University

Heather Chen is both a native of Kalamazoo and a transplant. She was born at Borgess and lived in Kalamazoo until age 12 after which she lived in Connecticut and most recently, northern California for eight years. After earning a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkley, she now lives near Borgess.

Kevin Cates is originally from the southern Illinois/northern Kentucky area. Prior to moving to Oshtemo, he lived in Chicago, where he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Michelle Walker also lives in Oshtemo. The Caledonia native earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Michigan. She also earned a certified nursing assistant certification.

Nicole Baker is from Greenville, but she considers herself to be a native after earning two bachelor's degrees-biomedical sciences and French-from Western Michigan University in the last five years. She lives in an apartment in downtown Kalamazoo.

Nicholas Beam is a graduate of Lawrence High School and Kalamazoo College. He grew up in Paw Paw and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. He chose to live in downtown Kalamazoo.

What brought you to Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine?

Cates: I chose WMed over multiple other schools. Three factors made me choose WMed: 1) The amazing response from the community and the clear excitement/investment from the community. 2) My interactions with the faculty and staff and learning about the amazing and innovative curriculum they've designed. 3) The opportunity to be part of the first class of a new medical school. It's an opportunity I couldn't get anywhere else.

WMed felt like both a risk and an opportunity. The risk of a new medical school far outweighed by the incredible opportunities I have access to as part of the inaugural class.

Baker: I was a pre-med student at WMU when the creation of the medical school was first announced. I felt like it was a program created just for me and I followed its progression to where it is today closely and excitedly. I love Kalamazoo and am a proud Bronco, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of the inaugural class.

Chen: Through a random internet search of medical schools in the United States, I noticed that the medical school was openeing in 2014 and was taking applicants. Being a Kalamazoo native and having spent some time at WMU as a kid, I was very excited to hear about this news and immediately put WMed on my list.

Once I applied, the warmth and enthusiasm of the faculty and staff really drew me to the school. Everyone seemed very dedicated to helping our class out and making sure we would become the best-rounded doctors we could be. After coming from a large undergraduate institution where I often felt like I was a lost fish in the big sea, it was nice to know that the school would be there to guide me to success.

How do you think the new medical school will impact our community?

Walker: I think the school will help draw more attention to Kalamazoo as a strong, medical city. The school itself, particularly the simulation center, will provide greater opportunities for medical teaching and learning.

Beam: The school continues to foster Kalamazoo's healthcare focus. It has and will continue to bring a variety of gifted people to the area. There is a huge amount of support from the community and I hope we, as students, can help make a positive impact on the community as well.

Baker: The relationship between the city and the medical school is exciting and warm. People are excited for WMed and for Kalamazoo as a whole. We have always had exceptional medical education programs and medical facilities in Kalamazoo and this medical school will only help our city to continue to grow in that aspect.

The School has already facilitated noticeable pride; some of my classmates were literally applauded at dinner by restaurant patrons the first week of school. We hope to live up to the community's expectations.

How do you feel about Kalamazoo and what it offers and/or its potential?

Villalobos: I love Kalamazoo! The community is very welcoming. The city has the potential to grow and is becoming a great place for innovation. The farmers' market and a variety of exercise options are an added bonus.

Chen: Since I haven't lived here for more than a decade, I am constantly surprised at what I remember about the place and what I never noticed. I have been to a number of good and affordable restaurants and I am a fan of the number of cultural activities the town puts on what seems like every week. As many people have said before me, I think Kalamazoo has a lot going on for such a small city.

Baker: Kalamazoo is my home. It has everything I need. I think it has excellent potential to keep growing and getting better.

There are so many options here. You can go shopping, walk around a downtown district, go to a sporting event, take a walk in the woods, make a quick trip to the beach, or go to a museum or a gallery depending on what kind of mood you're in. Kalamazoo has a little of everything.

What do you enjoy most about Kalamazoo?

Beam: Art Hop is very cool. I also enjoy anything with food. Ribfest is a plus along with Taste of Kalamazoo and Lunchtime Live.

Cates: My husband and I recently bought a house in the Westwood area. We love it and hope to be here a long time!

So far, Kalamazoo seems to offer the best parts of a small town without the worst parts. It also offers some of the great things about a big city without some of the negatives. I'm very happy so far with the move to Kalamazoo; it's the kind of community I'd like to settle down in.

Villalobos: The people here are so welcoming and inviting that I just feel at home. I love the people, local businesses, the atmosphere, and the festivals.

What makes you feel a part of the community? How do you connect?

Beam: Connecting is a mixture of everything Kalamazoo has to offer. You feel welcomed here and can hear the excitement from those around you. The community embraces the college students and anybody in the area and encourages you to get out, do more in the area, find the things you enjoy, and find fun. I have never felt out of place in Kalamazoo; I am just as much a part of this community at 22 than ever.

Cates: I connect through shared experiences and shared values. I believe strongly in service and in giving back to my community. Those are values I've seen prominently displayed in Kalamazoo. I'm excited to come to a place where my values fit in so perfectly.

Walker: I am still new to the area, but so far I have begun attending a church, explored some of the town's restaurants, activities, and exercise options.

I feel like a part of the community when I encounter friendly people when I go to places around town. I connect by attending local events and supporting local businesses.

Kalamazoo, including all of us at KzooConnect, would like to welcome the entire inaugural class of Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine and wish you best of luck!

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