Getting Students Interested in Science

Students in the UConn Summer Program

By M.A.C. Lynch

Thanks to an academic summer camp she attended while in high school, Gian Grant will be starting her freshman year at UConn this fall on an educational track that she hopes will take her all the way through medical school. What really made an impression on Grant, she says, was a 2009 summer field trip to the UConn Health Center, where a hematologist talked about her research. Grant decided then and there that pediatric hematology was her calling.

“I’ve been interested in becoming a doctor since I was little,” says Grant, a 2010 Windsor High School graduate. Now she is about to join a handful of students accepted into UConn’s Combined Program in Medicine, which guarantees admitted undergraduates a place in UConn’s medical school as long as they maintain high grades.

It’s all thanks to the Senior Doctors Academy, a “camp for the brain” that is one of multiple programs offered by the Aetna Health Profession Partnership Initiative. Students accepted into this academic enrichment program must maintain a B average and attend summer classes Monday through Friday, as well as Saturday classes when school is in session.

“It’s a full-time job,” says Granville Wrensford, the assistant dean and associate director of Health Career Opportunity Programs at the UConn Health Center.

About 100 high school students will attend summer camp this year at the University of Connecticut’s Greater Hartford Campus. While other kids are taking the summer off, these students are going to school from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day. When they get out, they’re expected to study and do homework. “The goal is to get more underrepresented and first-generation students into the health professions, including medical school, dental school, pharmacy, nursing and Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences,” Wrensford says. “The idea is to get them interested in science.”

Because the program is so intensive, university staff interviews both students and their parents to determine their commitment.

“We’re looking for buy-in,” says Keith Carter, the UConn Health Center’s community-based education specialist. A parental seminar series has been added to the program. It will address financial aid, stress management and other topics.

“Some of these interviews can be quite touching. Parents can start crying,” Carter says. “A large portion of our students are the first [in their families] to go to college. Others are from low-income families.”

A middle-school program called Jumpstart prepares students for the PSAT and SATs. There’s also a Junior Doctors Academy for high school juniors in addition to the Senior Doctors Academy for seniors. Both offer academic support and opportunities to talk to college admissions officials and to hear about scholarships. The students also get to meet medical school students and health professionals from the UConn Health Center and hear about their pathways into medicine.

Students take weekly field trips and conduct research in a laboratory. They also can attend the health center’s “Bridges to the Future” conference and the Harvard University Biomedical Conference for underrepresented students.

Shanado Williams is about to enter his senior year at UConn. Getting to meet the professionals at the UConn Health Center inspired him to aim for medical school. A Weaver High School graduate and the first male in his family to go to college, Williams is spending the summer studying for his medical school admissions tests, the MCATs. He says he dreams of “going back to my city” by working in a hospital emergency room or a family practice.

Syreeta Crawford researched acute allergic airway disease with Roger Thrall at the UConn Health Center through the High School Research Apprenticeship Program. She also attended the Senior Doctors Academy. “It really helped a lot… especially coming from a public school where we don’t have the resources,” says Crawford, who graduated from Hartford’s Weaver High School this year. She plans to attend Howard University in the autumn and then apply for medical school in the hope of becoming a pediatric surgeon.

The first person in her family to go to college, Crawford works close to 40 hours each week training cashiers at Bradley Airport. She was able to take time out for the apprenticeship and Senior Doctors Academy because of the stipend the program provides: She was paid $20 for every day she went to the Senior Doctors Academy and received $1,800 for participating in the research apprenticeship.

“This is a very young program,” says Dr. Marja Hurley, who initiated Jumpstart in 2004 and the Junior and Senior Doctors Academies in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

“We were not seeing applicants to the medical and dental school from Hartford,” says Hurley, an endocrinology researcher, Professor of Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, and Associate Dean for Health and Career Programs at the UConn Health Center. “It’s something that I feel very strongly about.”

As reported by The Hartford Courant, July 18, 2010

Adapted from Health Center Today