Growing up in a small town in rural India, Samuel Kadavakollu, Ph.D., was raised to believe that money should never be a barrier to education. Now, as an assistant professor at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, he is sharing his knowledge with, not just the BCOM medical students, but also other high school and college students hoping to improve scores on some of the most important exams they will take in their academic careers.
Dr. Kadavakollu triple majored in mathematics, physics, and chemistry at Andhra University in India. He then earned his master’s in organic chemistry and moved to the United States for a career in pharmaceutical research. An opportunity to pursue his Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry at NMSU shifted his career goals. While working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, he began tutoring students and teaching undergraduate labs. He found his niche helping them prepare for exams.
In 2012, Dr. Kadavakollu finished his doctorate and took a position at Western New Mexico University in Silver City. He collaborated with FORWARD NM’s Southwest Center for Health Innovation and the University of New Mexico’s Health Science Center to offer summer camps for students hoping to improve their performance on the American College Test (ACT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The intensive six-week courses helped high school students raise their ACT scores 28 percent, while his college students saw a 44 percent increase in their MCAT scores.
“My passion is exam preparation,” Dr. Kadavakollu said. “These types of exams are very broad spectrum; they cover a number of different subjects. I can teach math and physics. I can teach organic chemistry and biochemistry, so this type of work is an ideal match for my background.”
BCOM recognized the need for his expertise and hired him on in 2016. This semester, Dr. Kadavakollu launched BCOM’s first community MCAT prep course. “Dr. George Mychaskiw, the BCOM dean, has been very supportive of all my ideas,” he said. “He’s been very helpful in providing all the support and resources I need.”
Out of 120 applicants, 70 were selected to participate in the 15-week program that runs through the end of April. Some are making the trip to Las Cruces two evenings a week from El Paso, Anthony, Vado, Mesquite, Radium Springs, Hatch, and other nearby communities.
Dr. Kadavakollu said similar courses at major universities around the country are often taught by students that earned a high score on the exam. The BCOM course is taught entirely by university faculty from BCOM, as well as two of Dr. Kadavakollu’s former colleagues from WNMU, using only material from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the organization that administers the MCAT.
MCAT prep courses can typically cost thousands of dollars. There is no course fee for Dr. Kadavakollu’s class and as a bonus, he negotiated with the national test prep service Firecracker to provide each student with free access to their MCAT practice materials.
The MCAT students say he makes the material relatable and shows them different ways to study beyond just memorizing content from a book. Kyle Kozloski, a firefighter and an NMSU senior with medical school aspirations, said, “This course has given me direction on how to study and what is most important to study. It’s really helped me narrow down the areas I’m strong in and the areas I need to give more focus.”
Many of the favorable reviews center around his “flipped classroom” method of teaching. Instead of spending class time lecturing, Dr. Kadavakollu pre-records his lectures and the students watch them beforehand. This allows him to spend classroom time engaging with the students, answering questions, and developing real-life scenarios to help them learn. He also frequently pops in on study groups around campus to offer up his assistance.
Ultimately, Dr. Kadavakollu said that when it comes to exam prep, his recipe for success is simple: practice, practice, practice. “My students do lots and lots of practice examinations and quizzes. In my ACT course, they took ten full length examinations. After the tenth, you pretty much know what you’re doing on the eleventh. Same thing with the MCAT. The real MCAT has passages with five or six questions. Every day, for homework I assign them ten passages. Imagine how many they will have practiced by the end of the course.”
On multiple choice questions, Dr. Kadavakollu makes a point to explain not just the correct response, but the incorrect answers as well. “They’re not only learning the answer to that question, but we’re also covering four other topics,” he explained.
Next up, Dr. Kadavakollu is helping his BCOM students prepare for the grueling board exams they are required to pass to graduate medical school. He’ll be offering an online summer course for the first-year students and his ultimate goal is for BCOM to have the highest board scores in the nation.
Dr. Kadavakollu also hopes to bring back the ACT prep camps he ran in Silver City, this time at NMSU. “The BCOM mission is to increase the physician workforce in New Mexico. The only way we do that successfully is by turning the young students in this community into physicians. We have to start helping them while they’re in high school to ensure they go far in their academics.”
Las Cruces native Hanna Makk is currently enrolled in the MCAT prep course and confirms that these types of courses are invaluable for students like her who are looking to compete with the more than 50,000 students that apply for medical school in the United States each year. She said, “Students that are from this area will be more willing to stay in the area once they become physicians because they already care about the community. This course is really, really important to local students like us so we can be on the same playing field as medical school applicants from all over the country.”
Dr. Kadavakollu said he runs these test prep courses because teaching is his passion and, as a graduate of NMSU, he wants to give back to the community he now calls home. He said he appreciates the great support from his teaching mentors Dr. Kevin Ahern, Dr. Shawn White, Dr. Richard Sabina, and Dr. David Osborne.