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Free MCAT prep classes offered to Honors College students

A private endowment to the Honors College will provide aspiring doctors with the opportunity to take free test preparation courses.

For the second year, doctors Shaukat and Antonina Chowdhari have donated $130,000 to an endowment for a Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) preparatory course offered through the Honors College.

For the Chowdharis, the donation carries family ties.

Honors College Dean Stuart Silverman said the Chowdharis first met with him before the spring 2010 semester because they wanted to make a donation to the Honors College but weren’t sure which areas to pursue. Their daughter Mariam Chowdhari, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, had just enrolled in the College.

“We got onto the conversation of MCAT prep courses and how some students can’t afford to pay for them,” Silverman said. “And they both looked at me at once and said, ‘Oh that’s how we met.'”

Shaukat said when he met Antonina in a similar course in New York City “many years ago,” the classes were more affordable for students.

“Oh, it was inexpensive,” he said. “Over the years they have come to be less affordable and we wanted to help students with that.”

Currently, Silverman said MCAT prep courses can cost as much as $2,000. The endowment fund provides 20 to 23 Honors students that are in good academic standing with a free 15-week, non-credit course.

The course, which was first offered in the spring 2010 semester, is now in its second run and meets every Tuesday for three hours.

It has already attracted the interests of other colleges who are hoping to offer similar free preparatory courses, Silverman said.

“Michael Barber (associate dean of the College of Medicine) has been sitting in on the course this semester, for the College of Medicine,” Silverman said. “They’re looking into what it will entail to begin their own program.”

He said four graduate student volunteers that are enrolled as third or fourth year students in the USF College of Medicine teach the classes.

Food, such as pizza and sandwiches, are served during class meetings and all course expenses, such as books and practice exams, are paid for by interest raised from the endowment.

Silverman said the estimated per-student cost of the course is $200 to $400. But Shaukat said the true value of the course cannot be appraised with monetary figures.

“The true value of this course is in what it can provide these students for the future,” he said. “We know this course can help people who might otherwise be unable to pay for a similar course on their own.”

Apart from their daughter, the Chowdharis have their own USF ties.

Shaukat was a volunteer faculty member from 2002-2004 in the College of Medicine anesthesiology residency program and is a current member of the USF Foundation Board of Directors and the Unstoppable Campaign cabinet. In 2008, the couple made a $250,000 donation to be paid over five years to the College of Medicine.

Silverman said that while a “couple” of non-Honors College students have inquired about entry into the MCAT prep course, it is primarily being offered to Honors College students. Yet, if any of that money is left over after a semester he would consider admitting non-honors students who are pursuing a future in medicine.

“I don’t want to keep any of the money we have available and let it roll over; this is to help students, not to collect somewhere,” Silverman said. “We really need to be helping honors students with this, because that was the Chowdharis’ intention, but if not enough honors students apply to the program, we would consider opening it up to other students.”