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Wilson College’s Medical Sciences Concentration Offers Unique Alternative to Pre Med Programs

Meet three members of the Wilson College Wolfpack who have gone on to successful careers in dentistry, emergency residency and optometry.

Andrew Treece
Dr. Andrew Treece owns his own optometry practice in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Among the artists, designers, scientists and engineers emerging from the Wilson College of Textiles are another crop of students taking their textile education somewhere unexpected — the medical field. 

Students enrolled in the medical sciences concentration of the polymer and color chemistry (PCC) program complete all the prerequisite courses needed for a successful application to medical, dental or other professional health-based programs. Their PCC degree not only provides them with the skills they need to succeed in the healthcare industry, but it also sets them apart from the traditional biology or biochemistry pathway. 

“When you’re reading applications and you see the majors chemistry, biology, biochemistry, engineering or nutrition over and over, to see polymer and color chemistry is kind of like ‘Oh what is that? That sounds so interesting,’” Dr. Grace Bunemann, a graduate of the program, says.

Meet three graduates of the medical sciences concentration who have taken their education from the Wilson College and turned it into successful careers in healthcare.  

Grace Bunemann

Emergency Medicine Resident | Chicago, Illinois
Grace Bunemann stands in her scrubs on a patio and the Chicago skyline is visible behind her.

“You always want to set yourself apart in applications and only a few other institutions in the U.S. offer a B.S. in Polymer and Color Chemistry,” Bunemann explains. “So when I heard about the College of Textiles and the PCC medical sciences concentration that puts you directly in line with all the admissions prerequisites for med school, it was perfect.”

Bunemann, who graduated from Campbell Medical School with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, works as an emergency medicine resident at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She first discovered the college through a presentation given by a graduate student that came to her high school. 

Bunemann (third from right, front row) pose for a photo with fellow PCC graduates and Associate Professor Nelson Vinueza.

After attending the Summer Textile Exploration Program, Bunemann knew a degree in PCC was the next step of her journey to becoming a doctor. The unique nature of the PCC program not only set her up for competitive medical school applications, but also challenged her to explore the medical field from a different perspective. 

“We interacted with students from all different majors,” Bunemann says. “That really gave me a great experience working with people from all sorts of backgrounds and different thought processes.” 

According to Bunemann, her time at the college taught her how to translate high-level concepts into digestible information. This is a skillset that she says can be applied directly to her career in emergency medicine.

Grace Bunemann (center) and two other people at her residency in Chicago.

“One of the biggest things I do in my role now as an emergency medicine doctor is speaking to patients every single day,” she explains. “Those relationships and projects that I built in the College of Textiles really set me up to be a great communicator and know how to talk to people and explain things at a level they can understand.” 

For Bunemann, the college offered her an education that stood out from the traditional pre-med pathway in an environment dedicated to her success. 

“It was the people, the opportunities, the mentorship, the leadership and the close connection,” she says. “There’s something so special about being at such a large university with all the resources to help you, but a small college where everyone knows you by your first name.” 

Grace Bunemann poses with a group of people with their "wolves up" at an NC State tailgate.

It was in this environment where she says she cultivated lasting friendships and support systems she continues to rely on. 

“The friendships and connections I formed within my time at the college of textiles are some of my closest friends to this day,” she says. “Medical training is not easy. They were the people who really helped me through it.”

Santiago Tellez

Dentist | Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Santiago Tellez (right) wears scrubs and takes a picture with two other students in front of UNC's Adams School of Dentistry.
Tellez and classmates in front of UNC’s Adams School of Dentistry on the first day of classes.

While a career in the healthcare industry had always been Dr. Santiago Tellez’s plan, he never planned on getting there with a degree from the college. It wasn’t until he was connected with a PCC alumnus that he realized just how far the medical sciences concentration could take him.

“It was not like anything I had heard about before,” Tellez says. “It really made me think differently than I would have from a general sciences degree.”

Santiago Tellez (second from right) poses for a picture in a cap gown with  loved ones following commencement.

It was this creative thinking and unique environment that Tellez credits with setting him apart from others pursuing the same path post graduation and giving him the skills necessary to succeed in his field. 

“When it comes to being a successful pre-med applicant, comprehension of the basic sciences is essential, but you also want to be able to think outside of the box,” Tellez says. “Working with patients, it’s not only about the book knowledge, you also have to be able to think on your toes and problem solve on the spot. That was a skill the textile program gave me.”

Santiago Tellez smiles for the camera and holds up a donut.
Tellez after NC State’s annual Krispy Kreme Challenge tradition.

Tellez carried these skills from the college into his time at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and into his first year as a full-time dentist.

“During my time in college I was able to build my interdisciplinary and social skills,” Tellez explains. “When I started at UNC School of Dentistry,  I felt comfortable knowing I had a strong science background and invaluable social experiences from the College of Textiles which translated into dental school really well.”

Andrew Treece

Optometrist | Salisbury, North Carolina
Andrew Treece poses with his "wolves up" in a doctor's office.

“We see children as young as three and people as old as 100, and it’s a good career for me,” Dr. Treece says. “The degree I have, when I got to optometry school I realized how much it really did help me compared to traditional biology or biochemistry degrees.” 

Andrew Treece graduated with honors from the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Optometry and owns his own private optometry practice, treating patients of all ages and walks of life.

For Treece, PCC was a unique way of studying the world around him. Through the medical sciences concentration he was able to meet all his prerequisites for optometry school, while also building a deeper and more focused understanding of the polymers that make up the world around us.

I got to see firsthand the correlations between what you learn in the classroom, what you do in the lab and how it ends up in the real world. It all has real-world applications.

“Polymers are all around us and while the average person may have no idea what they are, we learned in our program that these long chain molecules are really the building blocks for everything in the room you’re in,” Treece explains. “When you make that connection and become an expert in this science and chemistry subject, it gives you a real leg up on the people who just have the general biology understanding of it.”

Treece also credits the college with giving him the environment to dive deeper into the subjects that interested him and build a strong foundation which he carried into his career. His senior year he was able to complete an independent study focusing on aging in the eyes and how that affects the perception of color.

“I got to see firsthand the correlations between what you learn in the classroom, what you do in the lab and how it ends up in the real world.” Treece says. “It all has real-world applications.”