Senior Dreams of Becoming a Doctor, After Following Her Mom to UNT Dallas

December 01, 2023

“Life-changing” is how UNT Dallas senior Lauren Herrera describes her college experience. More than rigorous academics and engaging activities, Herrera’s time here can be described as a family affair. Her graduation in December 2023 will be a full-circle moment.

lauren herrera and mom

As a child, Herrera sometimes accompanied her mother to school. Her mom attended UNT Dallas as a first-generation college student and graduated in 2013. Now, a decade later, Lauren Herrera will walk the commencement stage and receive her diploma, too.

“It’s been an inspiration being here at UND Dallas,” Herrera said.

But that wasn’t exactly Herrera’s original plan. Instead of following in her mother’s footsteps, the Oak Cliff native wanted to join the military after high school. But something changed, and her journey took her to UNT Dallas instead. 

lauren herrera

The key moment occurred when she discovered the Dallas County Promise Program, which provides tuition assistance, guidance, and support for aspiring college students. “I learned about Dallas Promise and enrolled here,” Herrera recalled.

The program’s goal aligns with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX initiative. Their aim is to ensure that 60% of Texans ages 25-64 will receive a degree, certificate, or other postsecondary credential by 2030. 

Herrera’s ahead of the game. She went to a Dallas ISD Early College High School (ECHS), earning an associate’s degree, which meant she was already a sophomore when she officially registered for courses at UNT Dallas. Next, she plans to attend UNT Health Science Center (HSC) in Fort Worth for a master’s degree, followed by medical school. She plans to become a dermatologist, something also rooted in her family life.

lauren herrera and professor

“I’m one of three siblings,” Herrera explained. “We all got acne in middle and high school. It sucked, but it was fun experimenting with different medications and treatments.” Seeing improvement in their skin inspired her to do more.

Mother-daughter bonding helped, too. “We tried lots of skin and hair products together,” Herrera said, especially Korean skincare techniques. “I was always into beauty, and my mom was encouraging.”

Motivation from her mom, coupled with her own desire to help others, has led Herrera along a path that includes STEM studies (she is a biology major and a chemistry minor), stretching herself to learn new disciplines and connecting with people who share her passion.

lauren herrera at purdue university

Over the summer, she had the opportunity to conduct medical research during an internship at Purdue University, an institution ten times the size of UNT Dallas. Herrera learned a lot more than she expected. “It was the first time living by myself. I felt isolated. I had to go out of my way (comfort zone) to meet others,” Herrera said. “The best part was meeting like-minded people.”

As she finishes up her senior year, Herrera now has the perspective to compare a large university with a smaller one. “UNT Dallas is interconnected,” she said. “Nothing feels out of reach. It’s the best. There’s a sense of community.” Herrera credits her mentors, including Drs. Kimberly Riddick and Muhammed Yousufuddin, with guiding her through the past three years.

lauren herrera and friends

In addition to her academic requirements, Herrera has served as president of the Pre-Health Club. In her spare time, she also volunteers at a local hospice. “There’s nobody over their 60s in my family,” she said. “I like connecting with older generations.” Herrera has done a lot of reading about geriatrics, and death and dying. “You don’t think you’ll get old one day,” she said. “People can be forgotten.”

Whether assisting an octogenarian in hospice care or a teenager in high school, Herrera is dedicated to making life better for others, regardless of what chapter of life they are in. “I don’t want to just be a doctor,” she said. “I want to be a bridge for people who need it. I want to help close the gap” in the healthcare system.

So what does her mother think now? “She’s excited,” said Herrera. Her mom’s stepdad and two brothers all got master’s degrees as first-generation students. “Mom wants that for us, too.”

Herrera is well on her way to achieving that goal and her dream of being a dermatologist. Who knows what else she will accomplish and how many lives she will touch along the way?