For the past 12 years, you could always find at least one of the six Sandvall siblings on Baylor's campus. As many as three of them were students at the same time. That time has ended; the last two, Barcleigh, BS '11, and Breck, BSME '11 (who just graduated from Baylor at age 19), walked the stage in May, both with summa cum laude honors (in neuroscience and mechanical engineering, respectively).
Breck says that although the Arlington-based family "looked like the Brady Bunch walking down the aisle of our Baptist church every week," collectively, they have endured a lifetime of challenges: a home burned to the ground while the family was at church, two family members with hearing impairments, a grandmother who lived with them during her final battle with cancer, a mother twice diagnosed with melanoma, even a sister rescued via helicopter in the mountains of Austria.
Despite all the difficulties the Sandvalls have faced, individually, they have amassed a number of impressive accomplishments. Brittany (now Potter), BS '02, is a sports medicine fellow in Arlington. Bryce, BBA '05, is assistant facilities director at Baylor. Brooklyn, BSEd '09, is a graduate student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Barcleigh will attend Baylor College of Medicine in the fall.
Brinkley, BS '07, will begin her surgical residency in Seattle after her recent graduation from Baylor College of Medicine. (She's the one who needed helicopter rescue: While a senior at Baylor, Brinkley was nearly swept down a mountain by a rockslide on a study abroad trip. After being rescued, she endured numerous surgeries to repair her left hand, which was vitally important for someone with plans to be a surgeon -- specializing, appropriately enough, in hand reconstruction.)
At the age when most teenagers are beginning to drive, Breck, the youngest of the Sandvalls, was pledging a fraternity. He started his freshman year at Baylor at only 15 years old.
As salutatorian of his high school class of 800 (his sister Barcleigh was valedictorian), Breck had his pick of top universities, but some schools hesitated to offer him scholarships because of his relative youth. What set Baylor apart to him was its Christian environment, its generous financial aid package and its proximity to his family.
"As a 15-year-old, it was a formative time when most people are very vulnerable to their environments. I had not figured out a lot of things about who I was, about my personality or what I wanted to do with my life," explains Sandvall. "The culture of a university affects what you do and what you think, how you teach and how you learn. One of the most amazing things about Baylor is that it's helped me mature so much physically, mentally and spiritually. At that stage, I needed to be in a place that was supportive and would nurture me. I certainly have experienced that sort of environment at Baylor.
"I really don't think I was treated any differently because of my age, which I'm very thankful for," he continues. "When I first got to Baylor, I didn't go around telling people. It's nothing to boast about. If people asked me, I'd tell them, but I wouldn't purposefully go out and tell people. During pledging, though the fraternity leaders knew my age, of my pledge brothers only my roommate knew I was younger. After we were members and they found out, they were like, 'Are you kidding me?'"
Sandvall says that his courses were challenging, and he took 18 hours nearly every semester as a mechanical engineering major on the premed track. Still, he says he avoided "being a hermit" and had a blast making memories with his Phi Kappa Chi brethren, doing things like participating in All-University Sing, raising funds for iloveorphans.com and going on mission trips.
During summer breaks from Baylor, Sandvall took full advantage of opportunities to study and work at research and medical centers such as the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, where he developed a project that focused on improving gas transport to and from red blood cells, and the Arizona Heart Institute and Hospital, interacting with cardiothoracic surgeons and patients and fostering his interest in surgical technology.
"The most intense experience was in Arizona, where I spent six weeks following eight different cardiothoracic surgeons and scrubbing in for more than 200 surgeries," he remembers. "It was absolutely mind-blowing -- one of the neatest things I've ever done."
Sandvall isn't yet sure which type of surgeon he wants to be -- "that's what med school is for," he explains. But at press time, he was considering Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. If he chooses Baylor, he will enter alongside his sister, Barcleigh.
Chances are slim six children from the same family will graduate from Baylor again anytime soon, much less one quite like the Sandvalls. Chances are good a bright future lies ahead for all the Sandvall siblings, and for Breck, the youngest member of the Class of 2011.