Bailey and Sidney Russell finish each other’s sentences. They co-author fantasy fiction. They take the same classes. They share the same academic career goals. And they share the same genes. Twin sisters, together they lead their Alpha Chi chapter at California State University, Bakersfield.
Sidney is the California Iota chapter president and secretary. Bailey serves as vice president. “Basically, people on campus know that if it’s academic and it’s a club or honors society, go find the twins,” says Bailey.
“We are actually called ‘the twins’ on campus even though there are other twins here,” adds Sidney.
Both Russells also share a dream: to open a pediatric care practice for families who otherwise could not afford medical care. To the twins, it’s personal. For all their boundless ambition and early success, the sisters have also experienced tragedy beyond their years. Their own journey of healing now motivates their dream to serve others.
The loss of a brother. The disappearance of a father.
A gifted writer, their brother Nicholas committed suicide when the twins were just 13 years old. Their father, a soldier, often was stationed elsewhere. “Our Dad was always gone on military duty,” Sidney says, “but then he actually started just going away. After my brother died, he completely left.”
Nicholas, almost six years older than the twins, had assumed a role beyond just the older sibling. “Our brother was kind of a father figure to us,” says Sidney. “We didn’t realize this until after he died. So, it wasn’t just losing a brother, it was losing that male figure in our lives. I cried a lot,” she remembers.
Following the suicide, the family experienced more hardship. They moved into a relative’s house. They switched schools (“A lot of kids knew our brother had died, and we just didn’t want to face it.”). And they faced financial stress. “We went an entire year where we couldn’t get medical coverage,” says Bailey. For their mother, a Type 1 diabetic since the age of 12, this meant somehow scrounging up $800 a month for insulin— “And that’s with the discount for no insurance. That’s for something you need to live,” says Bailey. “It’s crazy it’s that expensive.”
A dream born out of medical necessity.
As they’ve grown up, the twins have faced their own share of medical problems. Together, they’ve sat in enough waiting rooms and examination rooms to draw their own conclusions about what makes for a good doctor and for a great bedside manner. It’s the good ones whose footsteps the twins seek to follow. “I want to be there to help the people the way that I was helped,” says Sidney.
Drawing from their own experiences, Bailey and Sidney have planned their futures to help other children who have suffered from a one-two combination of sickness and poverty. For their future medical clinic, they plan to re-shape the working model. “Free clinics are notorious for not having the best care,” says Sidney. They plan to pull doctors from across disciplines, including psychology, into one quality care clinic for children.
“We want to start a clinic right here in Bakersfield, with not only good care but medical testing in- house and a tiered payment system where the people who can pay help the people who cannot.” Of course, first they have to pursue their M.D. degrees and pass their boards. “This,” says Sidney, “is our eventual dream, working together at our own practice so we don’t have to get split up.”
Double the effort. Triple the work.
As if it’s not enough for the twins to double major, they are triple majoring in English, psychology and pre-med. With the mentorship of their chapter sponsor, Dr. Jacqueline Kegley, the twins have been able to pursue what, to many, would be a frenzied amount of learning in one semester. Going to bed after midnight and rising before six, they’ve managed to write short stories (they are co-authoring a fantasy novel), take a combined 16 courses, volunteer at the Writing Center, and learn Latin and ancient Greek on the side.
A community of support is key to fueling this type of academic pursuit, and the twins say Alpha Chi has become a pillar of their intellectual life. “Alpha Chi brings together this idea of an academic core,” says Sidney. “We come together to celebrate learning—and that’s not something you see every day.”
Alpha Chi has also opened doors for these small-town sisters from Wasco, CA. The 2017 National Conference in Louisville, KY was not only the twins’ first time outside California, but also their first time on a plane. In addition, the conference gave them their first opportunity to present their academic research to an audience of peer scholars.
Changing our world for the better.
The Russells are textbook examples of the Alpha Chi scholar: student leaders committed to using their scholarship to improve people’s lives. In their case, it’s studying hard today in order to help sick kids tomorrow in their hometown of Bakersfield, CA.
Scholarship for good is a pillar of the Alpha Chi experience. Members tend to be both conscientious scholars and engaged citizens. Addressing critical issues such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and injustice is a large part of what Alpha Chi students do with their service-oriented chapters and through their scholarly and creative projects.
As chapter leaders, the twins have worked to re-invigorate their chapter, build awareness and sponsor events that benefit the CSU Bakersfield community. Their service projects have involved working with elementary students, tutoring, and fundraising for groups like the Children’s Miracle Network.
“It’s like our motto says, making scholarship effective for good—that is what we are all about,” says Sidney.