NASA flight surgeon launched medical career from ACC

NOTE: Dr. Sean Roden will be a special guest speaker at the ACC Highland Campus grand opening on August 27. Learn more and RSVP here.

Dr. Sean Roden, ACC Alumni & NASA flight surgeon

Dr. Sean Roden, ACC Alumni & NASA flight surgeon

By all accounts, Dr. Sean Roden has had an extraordinary career. He is a flight surgeon supporting the International Space Station and NASA, and he has worked as an expeditionary physician at the South Pole.

But he says none of it would be possible without Austin Community College.

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“ACC taught me what I needed to know,” says Roden. “The college holds a special place in my heart.”

Roden grew up on a ranch in west Texas, with a passion for roping, riding, and swimming. School wasn’t a place where he excelled.

“I did just enough to get by. If you were an athlete, you always passed,” he recalls.

Roden didn’t plan on college, but his father paid him $500 to apply to the University of Texas at Austin. He enrolled and racked up plenty of credits, but few in the same program of study – and none in math or science.

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So when a relative suggested Roden become a doctor, it didn’t seem like a natural fit.

‘If it hadn’t been for ACC, I wouldn’t have made it. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that.’ – Dr. Sean Roden

“I’d taken just about every other course, though, so I decided to give the EMT program at ACC a try,” Roden says.

His first night in an ambulance changed his life.

“The more I learned about medicine, the more I loved it,” he says. “I applied and got into the associate degree program in emergency medical services. My GPA went from a 2.0 to a 4.0.”

After he graduated from ACC and decided it was time to progress toward medical school, he re-enrolled at UT. But his avoidance of math became a problem.

“I couldn’t take college-level math courses. I didn’t even have the high school math down,” notes Roden.

So once again, he turned to ACC. He completed non-math courses at UT during the day while taking developmental math at ACC in the evenings. With the help of his professors, he conquered math – and was soon on to medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he graduated in 1994.

His interest in medicine and flight came together at NASA, where he works as a flight surgeon, providing medical care and medical training for astronauts. Roden also spent several months as a medical officer at the South Pole, supporting personnel at the National Science Foundation’s station. He credits his accomplishments to his studies at ACC.

“If it hadn’t been for ACC, I wouldn’t have made it,” says Roden. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that.”

He believes community colleges are the key to success for many students.

“Community colleges fill a niche now more than any time in the history of education,” he remarks. “You can get a great education without the cost of a big university. You can take courses you are interested in and find your passion. You can better yourself while fulfilling your responsibilities. My message to students? You can do it. I’m living proof.”

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