Feature Stories

Karisa Schreck, NJIT's Youngest Grad, Excels in Med School

Karisa (Solt) Schreck, who graduated from NJIT when she was 18, is in her last year of medical school at Johns Hopkins, where she is working on a dual degree.

Karisa Schreck, who graduated from NJIT when she was 18, is now in her last year of medical school at Johns Hopkins.

She’s been at Hopkins for seven years, but she’s studying more than medicine. She’s doing an M.D. - Ph.D. program that allows her to work simultaneously on a medical doctorate and a Ph.D.  Only the brightest students in the country, like Karisa, are accepted into Medical Scientist Training Program at Hopkins. She’s on full scholarship, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Karisa alternates between her M.D. and Ph.D, so her work load is nearly double that of a regular medical student’s. Last year she completed her Ph.D. in neuroscience, and this year she’s finishing her medical training. It’s a rigorous program but when she finishes she’ll be in a privileged position: she’ll do research in her field – neuroscience and brain cancer – while also working as a doctor.  As a doctor she’ll see cancer patients while as a researcher she’ll develop new cancer therapies. She’ll be part of an elite corp of cancer researchers. 

Working as researcher is not a high-paying medical job.  But for Karisa, medicine is not an avenue to riches: It’s a calling. “Medicine for me has never been about making money,” says Karisa, who graduated from NJIT in 2004 with a degree in biomedical engineering.  “As long as I was helping people and doing research that improved how we do medicine, I could work for no salary.”

In fact, she’ll do precisely that -- work for free -- during her upcoming spring break, which she’ll spend in Tela, Honduras. She’s going there with a Christian medical group that will administer medical care to the locals. She plans to do more medical missionary trips throughout her life. 

And here in America, she’s interested in caring for poor city residents who lack good health care.  If the opportunity arose, she’d work as a doctor- researcher at a medical center in Newark, the city where she spent most of her childhood, and the city where she attended university – NJIT.

As a child growing up in Newark, Karisa didn’t attend elementary or high school.  She was homeschooled by her mother. She loved homeschooling since she could learn at her own pace. A voracious learner, she would cram three years of learning into one.  Then, when she was 14, she wanted to study physics but she didn’t have a lab at home. So she signed up for a physic’s class at NJIT.  She aced the class and a year later, at 15, enrolled at NJIT. She was so advanced that the Honors College gave her a full scholarship.

Karisa, 25, excelled at NJIT, acing her classes and doing biomedical research with prominent professors. She graduated in three years as her class valedictorian. She was only 18 -- the youngest student ever to graduate from NJIT. 

NJIT took a chance on her: It was the only school to accept her at 15 -- another college turned her down -- and for that Karisa is grateful.

“I wouldn’t be where I am in my medical career without NJIT,” she says. “NJIT took a chance by accepting me and I’m grateful for all the opportunities it created for me.”

Karisa has a happy life, both professionally and personally. Four years ago, she married an NJIT alum, Thomas Schreck, who graduated in 2003 with a degree in computer science and applied math (Karisa’s maiden name was Solt). He works as a software engineer for a small company in Maryland, and the two live in a townhouse south of Baltimore.

“It was in an honor’s class that I met my future husband,” says Karisa, “which is another reason why I’m grateful to NJIT. We’ve been married for four and half years and we’re very happy.”

(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)