Sagehens Continue Journey into Medicine at Harvard Medical School Together

Julia Foote '18, Samantha Little '20, Sal Daddario '18 and Aseal Birir '18 at Harvard Medical School outdoors with flowers in background

Several went sea kayaking together during Orientation Adventure, and many took pre-med science classes together. Some played varsity tennis and several studied abroad in the same program in London. And five years ago, on May 13, they all graduated together on Marston Quad.

Today, a group of Sagehens from the Class of 2018 are continuing their shared journey in Boston as Harvard Medical School students. Another has already graduated and is doing a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, the largest of Harvard’s teaching affiliates.

“I don’t know for sure, but I think this is probably the largest number of students that Pomona has ever had at Harvard Med,” says Sal Daddario ’18, who will graduate from what is one of the country’s most prestigious medical schools next spring. “We’re all doing pretty different things,” he adds—"urologic surgery, internal medicine, anesthesia, research, ear, nose and throat surgery—and I think we offer a great peek into what a Pomona education can set students up for.”

A science major is not required for entrance into medicine, though it was a path all the Pomona alumni now at Harvard pursued. Two earned degrees in neuroscience, two in molecular biology, and one each in biology and chemistry.

From tennis team to medical research

Two of the students were among just 30 who are accepted annually into the medical school’s research-focused Health Science and Technology (HST) program. Michael Poeschla ’18 is in the M.D./Ph.D. program, aiming for a career in biomedical research. He takes classes at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and describes his Ph.D. work as “studying human genetics and how genetic variation affects blood cells and blood cancers.”

Maryann Zhao ’18, who, like Poeschla, played varsity tennis at Pomona, is also in the HST program. She is currently involved in research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, studying head and neck cancers. “What gets me most excited is how this research can potentially make an impact on someone’s life,” Zhao says. “It might even change the type of care they receive. That’s what motivated me to go into medicine.”

Zhao and Julia Foote ’18 met on their very first day at Pomona when they moved into the same dorm. They roomed together their senior year and both took two gap years in Boston. They applied to medical school at the same time and both got their Harvard Medical School acceptances on the same day. They will graduate from Harvard—again, together—on May 23.

Zooming into medical school

Like the rest of the HMS entering students in 2020, the Pomona alumni started medical school on Zoom as the pandemic raged. “But at least I knew Sal and Mary and Michael and other Sagehens,” Foote says. She came to Pomona from Jamaica. After graduation she plans to specialize in internal medicine and is interested in healthcare utilization and the cost-effectiveness of treatment and screening strategies.

While college football star Aseal Birir ’18 was at Pomona, he was involved in a research project working to develop a breath test to find pneumonia infections. In medical school, he became keenly interested in how drugs are discovered and developed. That led him to Harvard’s joint M.D./MBA program, which he will complete in May. He plans to pursue a career in biotech after graduation.

Sal Daddario ’18 had his first serious introduction to medicine as an 11-year-old when he developed an infectious disease that required hospitalization and multiple surgeries. “I remember interacting with my doctors and being in awe of the way they worked—they collected information, made decisions, tried new things—and then I got better,” he says. As a first-generation college student from a small, rural town in Ohio, he felt embraced by Pomona faculty, several of whom became his “academic parents.” He has “used the skills learned at Pomona in every research endeavor I’ve done here at Harvard,” Daddario adds. “I came into college without any of those skills, and I left Pomona ready to immediately engage in clinical research as a valuable member of the team.” He plans to pursue a medical career in pediatric anesthesia.

First into residency

Grant Steele ’18 was the first of the Class of 2018 to graduate from Harvard Medical School and is now in a urologic surgery residency at Mass General. He was one of only three who matched into the residency program in 2023. Steele grew up around medicine; his mother is a primary care physician who inspired him with her ability to diagnose and treat even complex medical conditions.

Steele says he loved medical school, “being surrounded by curious and hardworking people, just like at Pomona.” And, he remarks, in Boston, he’s “interacted with fellow Sagehens all the time, both at the medical school and among the other residents at Massachusetts General Hospital. It really is special to look across the drapes in the OR and see a fellow Sagehen smiling back at you.”

One of those Sagehens is Samantha “Sammy” Little ’20, a second-year student who is currently attending HMS along with the Class of 2018 alums. “Grant helped teach anatomy to my M1 class,” Little says, and Daddario “is actually my near-peer mentor for the pediatrics rotation at this moment!” Little has found that the people she has met at HMS are “kind, supportive and incredibly passionate about a particular aspect of medicine” which, she’s discovered, “is really inspiring energy to be around.”

Whatever their plans for life after graduation, the Pomona alumni at Harvard Medical School share a passion for science and a desire to help patients heal. Attending a top medical school while surrounded by people with whom he’s shared an educational journey for nearly a decade “has been absolutely fantastic,” says Daddario. “When I see other Sagehens here at Harvard, I truly feel at home.”