Alumni Spotlight Fall 2018

SHSU Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Dr. Melissa M Alvarez-Downing, MD (2000)

Most college students inherently believe that they have the potential to effect change in a positive way, but often question if they are on the right path. For Dr. Melissa Alvarez-Downing, she always knew her career trajectory would lead her to help others.

Today, the mother of three is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, specializing in colon and rectal surgery. One of the youngest surgeons in her field, she is truly a rising star according to her colleagues and credits Sam Houston State University professors for steering her trajectory.

Being as athletic as she is whip-smart, Dr. Alvarez-Downing excelled in science and sports from a young age. One of five children, she followed her older twin sisters to SHSU and received both academic and athletic scholarships. Taking honors classes through the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College, she was an Orange Key, ran cross country and track for all four years and graduated Magna Cum Laude with honors in 2000. Today, she stays connected to her alma mater as a Life Member of the Alumni Association.

The choice of path you take can have a significant impact on your destination in life, as Dr. Alvarez-Downing knows. She planned to earn a PhD in Chemistry, not an MD, and then teach – a goal of hers for as long as she can remember. However, faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences convinced her to consider a career in medicine.

Dr. Mary Plishker, the head of the Chemistry Department at the time, mentored Dr. Alvarez-Downing and encouraged her to pursue medicine due to her outgoing personality and academic aptitude. However, it wasn’t until her Biology professor placed an application for a competitive summer medical program in front of her, that she truly considered a change.

Dr. Alvarez-Downing was accepted into the program and from that point on, she knew she wanted to be a physician. After graduating from SHSU with honors, Dr. Alvarez-Downing attended the prestigious Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and received Board Certification from the American Board of Surgery in 2011 and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery in 2015.

When describing this up-and-coming surgeon, colleagues portray her as personable, enthusiastic and committed.

Dr. Anne Mosenthal, chair of the Rutgers NJMS Department of Surgery commented, “She is well-trained and has a wonderful bedside manner. I’ve had the opportunity to partner with her, taking care of more complicated patients. The patients love her, the families love her.”

Dr. Anastasia Kunac, program director for Rutgers NJMS General Surgery Residency echoed those sentiments, noting that Alvarez-Downing is “both passionate and compassionate, caring for patients and their families with incredible enthusiasm,” adding, “…I think for years to come she will be a role model.”

“And, that is true of Melissa as an educator as well,” Dr. Mosenthal added, “She is particularly interested in education and training the next generation, and that is what we are about here.”

As a top-performing young professional, not only does Dr. Alvarez-Downing exemplify a focus on academics, excellence and rigor that define Rutgers NJMS, she personifies what it means to be an Outstanding Young Alumna at SHSU, emulating the university motto of “A measure of a Life is it’s Service,” through her teaching, education and philanthropy.

“I found that throughout all steps of my training, were it medical school, residency and even fellowship, that having someone you identify with, who encourages you, and reaches out and supports you is just so important. So, that’s been an important part of my professional life - to give back that way,” she said.

Dr. Alvarez-Downing is a Life Member of the SHSU Alumni Association and provides support to the Department of Chemistry and the Elliot T. Bowers Honors College. 

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