Before entering Baruch College, Mark Smiley had taken only one science class in his life. A little more than 15 years later, he is an emergency physician in North Carolina, saving lives on a regular basis.
“I feel privileged to be doing this for a living,” says Dr. Smiley, a standout Baruch undergraduate who went on to study medicine at the University of Pittsburgh after earning a $300,000 Jack Cooke Kent Graduate Scholarship. “The hours are long, and the job can be stressful, but it doesn’t feel like work if you love what you’re doing.”
Born in Jamaica, Smiley moved to New York when he was nine and grew up in Brooklyn. “Back then, Brooklyn was a bit different than what you see today,” he says. In fact, Smiley witnessed a number of tragedies within his community while growing up, which is what initially sparked his interest in medicine.
“I wanted to be able to do something to help people recover from terrible situations, like falling victim to violence,” he explains. “The only problem is I simply didn’t think a career like that would be possible. So I didn’t even consider it.”
But that all changed when Smiley joined the Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program, a longstanding initiative that provides college assistance for talented students coming from difficult backgrounds and financial situations. Thanks to his SEEK counselors, Smiley realized that a medical career was possible. “SEEK counselors understand the unique challenges that have limited your education,” Smiley says, “and they come up with strategies to overcome that.”
In addition to exposing him to the biology and chemistry courses that would underpin his career path, Smiley notes that Baruch instilled in him a lifelong dedication to learning—so much so that he went on to receive an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh while simultaneously earning his medical degree. “I’m currently working with a colleague to create a wellness medical center,” says the practical physician, “so I need to understand the business aspects as much as the medical ones.”
Smiley is confident that his New York upbringing and Baruch education have prepared him for any challenge. “In the emergency department, my colleagues are always impressed by how cool and calm I am under pressure,” he says. “No matter who walks through the door—a child with a neurological issue, a person with a heart attack, a wound—I’m ready for it. And to have an impact on those people’s lives is an amazing feeling.”