Russell Simons (Photo by Yiting Chen)
Hometown: Larchmont, New York
Major: Biology, minor in medical humanities
Notable Activities/Achievements: President, Undergraduate Government of Boston College; chief marshall, Order of the Cross and Crown; Alpha Sigma Nu; editor-in-chief, The Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College; Voices of Imani; Student Admission Program; Campus Activities Board; undergraduate research assistant to Professor of Biology Ken Williams; summer research assistant, Valve Research Group, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; summer intern, Rosie's Place and Haley House.
Post-Graduation Plans: University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.
A student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program, Simons arrived at Boston College focused on the four-year path to medical school. But along the way, he has pursued an array of experiences – in public service, biomedical sciences, and athletics – that have made for an atypical pre-med experience. He ran the Boston Marathon twice in support of the Campus School and along with his fellow Presidential Scholars co-produced a documentary on the state of mental health care for Boston’s immigrant and homeless population. Simons has been active in student life, involved in everything from the campus tours program and Voices of Imani gospel choir to undergraduate research and community service. Discovering a passion for student government led him to a four-year involvement in UGBC, and this past year, a term as UGBC president. Through it all, Simons has remained passionate about pursuing his childhood dream of a career as a physician.
How has BC made a difference in your life?
When I received my BC acceptance letter, and then the Gabelli Presidential scholarship, I knew the trajectory of my life had changed dramatically. As a high school senior, it was beyond humbling for an institution like BC to say "We believe in you, so let us help you grow as much as any university possibly can." That ethos of support and mentorship has been the defining characteristic of my time on the Heights.
I came from a public high school in the suburbs of New York City to a Jesuit, Catholic university in Boston, so I knew to expect a change of pace. But what Boston College has taught me, and the difference it has made in my life, would've definitely been a surprise to 18-year-old me. Through coursework, study abroad, and student involvement, BC has shifted my worldview to place the focus centrally on the people around me, making me a more intentional, introspective, and compassionate person in the process. The best part is this mindset will remain with me throughout my life.
How have your studies and leadership experiences here prepared you for the future?
Studying at Boston College, where Jesuit ideals promote caring for the whole person, has pushed me to rethink how disparate aspects of my own identity intersect, and in particular to consider the common threads between the arts, public service, and medicine. My love of writing and literature found an early home in the Medical Humanities program, where classes in medical narrative and the ethics of HIV/AIDS opened my eyes to the social determinants of health and some of today’s most complex moral questions. Traveling abroad to Nicaragua through the GPSP helped me build on this awareness by studying global development, and working as a medical assistant in Spain gave me a first-hand understanding of clinical care outside of the U.S. My ultimate hope is to find ways to make a genuine impact in the world of health care using this knowledge in tandem with the leadership skills I've developed through student government.
"It might be expressed any number of ways, but I believe finding your voice — the things that ignite a fire inside of you, that give you reason to go forward, and the words to share your ideas with the world — is the defining adventure of your time here on the Heights."
Who have been some of the most influential people you’ve known at BC?
Fr. Jim Keenan, S.J. [Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program director], Professor Neil Wolfman [Chemistry], Professor Amy Boesky [English], Mark Miceli [Office of Student Involvement], Barb Jones [Student Affairs Vice President] and Jennie Thomas [GPSP] have had an immeasurable influence on my Boston College experience. Each has offered advice and guidance at key moments in my journey, helping me discover new interests and ways of thinking, and ultimately providing the backbone of support I've needed to make these four years at Boston College a success.
What experiences at BC have had the most significant impact?
Participating in undergraduate biology research with Prof. Ken Williams, and pursuing a minor and thesis in Medical Humanities, have helped me better understand what I hope to do with a career in medicine. I've known for a while that I want to be an academic physician based out of a university medical center, and my research experiences at BC and at Beth Israel Deaconess have backed that up. But the Medical Humanities program opened new doors into the worlds of public health, health policy, and medical ethics – all of which I plan to explore on a professional level throughout medical school. My experiences in UGBC have encouraged me to continue seeking out leadership opportunities, and my hope is that one day all of these aspects of my life will come together.
Having served as UGBC president, what do you hope to leave as your BC legacy?
My running mate, Meredith McCaffrey [’17], and I began the whole campaign process with the platform themes of "quality," "inclusivity" and "accessibility." UGBC has long, and proudly, served the roles of advocating for a more welcoming campus climate and bridging the gap between the student body and the administration — manifest in our themes of "inclusivity" and "accessibility" — but we wanted to especially renew the student government's focus on quality-of-student-life improvements. We started a yearlong effort to improve the day-to-day student experience, whether by expanding the hours of Hillside Café, or beginning a cross-university discussion on the building of a centralized student center. Because this year at BC has focused on the development of the University's 10-year Strategic Plan, the student center project has been especially important to us, culminating with an inaugural donation of $20,000 to the UGBC Student Center Fund.
So the legacy we hope to have left is primarily a legacy of strong, holistic student leadership that fulfills UGBC's most important roles on campus, in the process contributing to a better Boston College.
What advice would you give to incoming BC students?
[Campus Minister] Fr. Michael Davidson, S.J., says “a Jesuit education is about empowerment. It’s giving people a voice.” A voice to speak out against injustice, he says, but – just as importantly – a voice to be yourself. It might be expressed any number of ways, but I believe finding your voice — the things that ignite a fire inside of you, that give you reason to go forward, and the words to share your ideas with the world — is the defining adventure of your time here on the Heights. This community will challenge you to learn more about who you are and what you care about, but you have to let that happen. Being curious and open to newness and change in the first few weeks and months of your BC career will undoubtedly set you on the right path.
–Rosanne Pellegrini / University Communications