A Calling to Heal
How one student was determined to lift up others while following his own path
By Shelley Catalano
The moment Anthony Machuca ’22 received his acceptance letter from Stony Brook University, he knew he had found the community that would not only help him reach his dreams, but also provide him with the tools to surpass them.
“When choosing Stony Brook, I couldn’t help but be excited,” said the dual-degree graduate, who earned a BS in health science and a BA in psychology/sociology this past May. “Because while other students in my high school were having conversations of where they were going to go to college, my conversation was if I was going to go to college.”
Machuca, a first-generation college student and the child of a single mom, was unsure of his future as a Deer Park High School student in New York. Then he received a scholarship from Stony Brook and was invited to participate in the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) and Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program.
“Stony Brook really took the time to make sure that I felt like I was welcomed into a community of scholars, of researchers, and it was a place where I could really see myself growing, a place where I could build a better future for myself that no other school gave me,” he said.
Once on campus, Machuca found he was in a position where he could explore all his interests, with access to top research labs and a hospital right across the street. “When you think about that, it’s not really about how you fit into this community, but about what it is that you can do with your time here that’ll make you stand out; that will make your time here a legacy of all your own,” he said.
Machuca wasted no time in creating his unique legacy. As someone who experienced hardships because of healthcare inequity — due to an emergency childhood visit to the hospital that left his mother paying bills for years — Machuca knew he wanted to be in a position where he could help others like his family, but he didn’t want to wait until he graduated to do so.
“One thing that EOP tells us is to lift others as we rise, and this is something that has been within me for the longest time and I knew I wanted to give back as soon as I could,” he explained. “So, after taking an introduction to healthcare course, I decided that I wanted to start mentoring high school students and increase the pipeline of students who were interested in the allied healthcare professions.”
Working with the School of Health Professions and its faculty and staff, Machuca helped create the Healthcare Opportunities through Mentorship and Empowerment Program, through which he, other health science students and professors visited high schools across Long Island to reach underrepresented student populations.
“I went back to high schools like mine, and to students that looked like me, and I told them Stony Brook is an option. It’s not something that you have to dream of anymore. It’s real,” he said. “And I’m happy to say that we not only matriculated students into our program successfully at Stony Brook, but others have gone to Ivy League schools as well.”
Machuca hopes to expand the program — now in its third year — by creating internship opportunities for students while increasing the vital connection between SBU’s east and west campuses. “Although I’m no longer physically on campus, I am thankful to know that I can still contribute to a community of scholars and academics through the many passion projects and collaborations I had been able to curate during my undergraduate career.”
Pamela Matzner, director of EOP, said, “Since his EOP Summer Academy, Anthony stood out as a leader. He quickly became involved with the sole purpose of giving back to the program. He was a tutor, mentor and overall leader.”
As a result of his involvement and leadership within EOP, Machuca was awarded the State University of New York’s Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence by the chancellor. Only one EOP student from each campus can earn this prestigious award, and Machuca was SBU’s 2022 awardee.
In addition to his various volunteer roles in EOP, Machuca served on several university-wide committees, including the President’s Council of Student Advisors, the College of Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Council and the School of Health Professions Advisory Council.
“Because of my professors and staff in the EOP program viewing me as a leader and their constant support and words of encouragement, instilling in me that I can really do whatever I put my mind to, I’ve been able to not only change my life, but the lives of other kids,” he said.
Machuca is now focusing on helping the lives of cancer patients as he continues his studies in medical dosimetry through a joint program between Stony Brook and Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine’s Center for Radiation Sciences. As a certified medical dosimetrist, he’ll be making treatment plans with patients who are dealing with cancer — from different socioeconomic statuses, races and religions — and truly making an impact in their lives. “I think that role speaks to the kind of person that I wanted to be as a child, to help members of my community, but it also lends itself to helping me to change the direction of healthcare, where everyone is represented and everyone has equal access to the care that they deserve,” he said.
The two-year program, which Machuca will complete in June 2023, includes a 12-month clinical noncredit, nondegree certificate program in the Mount Sinai Health system. The program rotates students through all of Mount Sinai’s radiation oncology and clinical treatment locations in Manhattan. He’s currently completing his first internship at Mount Sinai Hospital, gaining hands-on learning with various therapeutic and planning technologies such as stereotactic radiosurgery. And he’s hoping to continue learning and collaborating with the clinicians he’s meeting now who are at the forefront of cancer medicine in the years to come.
“When you are called into healthcare, it’s because you want to give back to a community of people you want to help heal,” Machuca said. “I want to contribute and make sure that no one else goes through all of the things that I experienced as a child to the best of my ability. I want to make sure that I look out for people, no matter what they look like, no matter what they’ve been through, and always make sure that caring is at the center of what medicine is. Beyond this, I want to bring hope. Hope for a family of immigrants and a community of people who poured every ounce of their love into a future I now call the present. As a child who never dared dream of going to college, I’m now learning to dream organically and unapologetically. “Stony Brook not only allowed me to reach my dream, reach my full potential, but it also allowed me to build a new limit for what my potential can be.”