Making a Move: From Hoops to Med School

Posted On April 4, 2013
Categories Student Success

Generation Georgia State: Joshua Spear

This article is part of Generation Georgia State, a series that highlights the academic, personal and career accomplishments of Georgia State students, alumni, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend college.

Story By Clynton Namuo and Video By Alex Kreuter

Joshua Spear speaks with a big booming voice. It’s not a mark of confidence; it’s the result of a childhood ear infection.

“My parents couldn’t afford health insurance and they didn’t want to take me to the doctor because it’s expensive,” he said.

In Joshua’s neighborhood, medical care was a luxury.

Scared of high bills, or worse, the people he grew up with avoided the hospital, but now he is running toward it.

Joshua is the first generation of his family to attend college and he is headed to medical school. He credits his future in medicine to Georgia State, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology.

“There’s something special about this school that a lot of people underestimate,” he said.

“That urban feel gives you a unique perspective on life.”

Joshua’s future was almost pre-ordained. Looking back, he is surprised he didn’t end up in a gang.

He grew up in poverty, one of six siblings. Only three of them graduated high school. His parents struggled to pay bills. He had to borrow clothes for his high school prom and couldn’t afford a senior class trip to the bowling alley.

College was never part of Joshua’s plan. He had hoop dreams, but his high school coach demanded more.

“If I didn’t apply to college, my basketball coach told me I’d have to run every day until I did,” he said. “I ended up being forced to apply.”

Joshua Spears

That decision would change his life.

“Without Georgia State, I probably would have ended up being a statistic,” Joshua said.

At first, the university was a whirlwind of new and intimidating experiences: registering for classes, navigating downtown Atlanta, figuring out financial aid.

“Being a first-generation college student, I have to go through all the obstacles my parents never went through and they can’t really assist me with any advice,” Joshua said.

Joshua’s mentor Therese Poole, a senior lecturer and undergraduate director in the Department of Biology, helped him navigate Georgia State and discover his potential in medicine.

“Joshua has an intellectual curiosity and drive that set him apart,” Poole said. “I know he will succeed in anything he does.”

As a student, Joshua volunteered at Grady Memorial Hospital. One day he spoke with a patient, an African-American man like himself, who refused treatment. Joshua said he told the man he needed this help.

“He was literally scared he was going to die and he started crying halfway through our conversation,” Joshua said. “It mirrored the stereotypes that my family has about hospitals. You think you’re not going to leave the hospital because you see your friends go to the hospital and not come home.”

The man never got the treatment he needed.

“That was a life-changing experience,” Joshua said.

Joshua hopes to become a neurosurgeon and help others free of charge whenever possible. And he never wants to see someone turned away because they can’t afford a doctor or can’t comprehend the treatment they need.

“I want to be the role model that I never had growing up,” he said.