GCPS and PCOM Georgia Partner to Benefit Students in STEM
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GCPS and PCOM Georgia Partner to Benefit Students in STEM

December 20, 2023

Medical students lecture in front of seated area high school students in PCOM Georgia laboratoryPCOM Georgia hosts a STEM activity for Gwinnett area high school students.

A mere one half mile apart on Old Peachtree Road in Suwanee, Gwinnett County Public Schools and PCOM Georgia regularly collaborate to provide Gwinnett students with STEM opportunities.

The two entities became neighbors in 2004 when the Gwinnett County Board of Education approved the purchase and renovation of an existing manufacturing facility to house the school system’s instructional and support personnel. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine renovated a former distribution facility just down the road and began offering classes in the fall of 2005.

Ten years later, PCOM Georgia signed up to be the presenting sponsor of the Gwinnett Science, Engineering + Innovation Fair, an annual event that encourages Gwinnett County’s elementary, middle and high school students to delve deeply into the sciences. In addition, a faculty and a staff member began serving on the Science Fair Advisory Board. The relationship between the two organizations has flourished ever since.

PCOM Georgia Chief Campus Officer Bryan Ginn serves on the GCPS Superintendent’s Business Leader Council, while osteopathic medicine Dean and Chief Academic Officer Andrea Mann, DO, FAPP, and Brian Mann, EdD, MS, PA-C, chief of simulation operations for the College, serve on a district-wide advisory board.

Two high school students practice CPR on a manikinIn addition, the College sponsors the Principal for a Day event in which Leadership Gwinnett participants and graduates shadow the school system’s principals to get a better understanding of the workings of a school. Another event that PCOM Georgia sponsors is the STAR Student luncheon held annually.

On December 1, the PCOM School of Pharmacy was represented in a career fair for Shiloh High School students. Three PCOM Georgia faculty members and a fourth year student met with high school students to discuss the diverse careers that pharmacists have beyond the traditional retail pharmacy role, according to Michael Lee, PhD, assistant dean for assessment and program quality for the PCOM School of Pharmacy. Shiloh houses a CVS sponsored mock pharmacy, which opened in 2018.

The Office of Diversity and Community Partnerships sponsors an annual weeklong free summer Opportunities Academy to introduce Gwinnett County high school students to the healthcare professions. In addition, the College is hosting quarterly STEM Saturdays to provide enrichment activities for about 25 high school students each quarter. The students explore careers in health care while building relationships with PCOM Georgia faculty and student mentors.

According to Christy Finley, EdD, the assistant director of Diversity and Community Partnerships at PCOM Georgia, the Opportunities Academy provides a unique path for Gwinnett County students to practice effective communication and collaboration skills, while completing team research projects and presentations. In addition, the academy explores skills needed for college and career success, provides information about a career in science or medicine, and offers information about the medical school admissions process. The number of academy participants has increased 46% in the past year.

“We look forward to welcoming even more Gwinnett County high school students to the academy beginning June 24, 2024,” Dr. Finley said.

Ritika Vakharia, aspiring medical student, stands in PCOM Georgia's simulation centerFrom September through April, a senior high school student from the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (GSMST) in Lawrenceville, Ritika Vakharia, will complete a capstone project in the campus’ Sim Center. One of her primary roles involved planning activities for GSMST sophomores who visited the center in November. Vakharia, who plans to attend either the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech as a pre-med major this fall, planned the interactive simulation portion of the day, which centered on an asthmas case. She operated a high-tech manikin and collaborated with faculty, staff and DO students during the facilitation and debriefing.

She said, “It’s been a super informative experience for me. So far I’ve learned a lot about what exactly medical school is. Observing the simulations that students go through has allowed me to gain a better understanding of what my future entails.”

The PCOM Georgia Office of Admissions sponsors the Future Healthcare Scholars program each year. Last year, the online program involved students solving clues to resolve a medical mystery. Throughout the year, the campus’ Diversity Diplomats volunteer to teach STEM subjects at Gwinnett County elementary schools.

In turn, for the past two years, 479 Gwinnett County high school graduates who have finished college have applied to one of the six healthcare doctoral or graduate programs offered by PCOM Georgia.

In fact, more than 200 graduates from Peachtree Ridge, Brookwood and Berkmar high schools have applied to PCOM Georgia, according to Dana Brooks, MEd, executive director of admissions.

For the next two months, PCOM Georgia students, staff and faculty will be busily preparing for the school system’s science fair. The College provides numerous judges for the GCPS student projects, in addition to STEM activities and speakers.

High school student practices with skeleton anatomy modelJessica Holden, EdD, director of science for GCPS, said, “As one of the largest, most competitive regional science fairs in the US, the Gwinnett Regional Science, Engineering + Innovation Fair thrives on partnerships that provide real world relevance for our near 1,000 competitors each year.”

“From leading breakout sessions that expose students to medical careers, to engaging with students and providing expertise as judges, to sponsoring advancement to the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair, PCOM Georgia has gone above and beyond as the presenting sponsor for the fair. We are so thankful for this partnership!”

All in all, the two entities, who are just a two-minute drive from each other, work hand in hand in many ways to support STEM learning in Gwinnett.

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  • About PCOM Georgia

    Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institution of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied 125-year history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science, and physician assistant studies. The campus joins PCOM South Georgia in Moultrie in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state. Emphasizing "a whole person" approach to care, PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the community. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcomgeorgiahealth.org.

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