LMU Alumna Becomes First Female African-American Student Body President at Harvard Medical School

LaShyra “Lash” Nolen ’17 is a Southern California woman at heart. Growing up in Compton, she saw the disparities in health care firsthand. The lack of grocery stores and pharmacies near her stood out, especially when she moved to Rancho Cucamonga where access to medication and healthy food was accessible.

A Loyola Marymount University health and human sciences major, Nolen wanted to enter a field where she could bring a healthy change to her community. When she was 16 years old, her stepdad had a heart attack. “He grew up where food was a way to deal with trauma,” she says. “Mentors like Dr. Heather Tarleton and President Tim Snyder helped me see the road to my future.”

Nolen applied to 16 medical schools, interviewed and was accepted at 13 of them. She chose Harvard Medical School. Recently Nolen was elected the first female African-American student body president in the history at Harvard Medical School. In March, Harvard will feature Nolen’s application essay in the book, “50 Successful Harvard Application Essays.”

“LMU challenged me to think about being the best version of myself to serve others,” says the former ASLMU student body president. “LMU gave me friendships and mentors, like Dr. Jodie Finkel and Dr. Todd Shoepe, that are the foundation of my success.” Nolen feels lucky to have had an advocacy education at a Jesuit school.

Nolen’s LMU support network of faculty, family, and friends showed her the value of being bilingual and serving a diverse community. These attributes served her well as a Fulbright scholar and AmeriCorps volunteer.

Nolen’s Fulbright award took her to Galicia, Spain, where she taught English and worked on public health initiatives. Nolen helped her students understand social justice issues and its impact on their lives.

Through AmeriCorps, Nolen volunteered as a health coach in Chicago’s underserved communities. She learned more about how public policy affects patients and impacts doctors. “My experience with AmeriCorps peeked my interest in public policy because I realized that majority of the problems I saw in the clinic were related to systemic issues related to inequality and racism that aren’t solvable with prescriptions and day-to-day medicine,” said Nolen. “Therefore I plan to pursue an MD/MPP (Masters in Public Policy) to learn how to address some of these issues.”

Mentoring pre-med students as they prepared and applied for medical school was a bonus for Nolen while in Chicago. “Applying to medical school is a right not always granted to low-income students of color,” she says.

Creative Writing major Nina Gibson is a graduate student with the Department of English in LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.