The PCOM Georgia Summer Math and Science Academy provides high school students with the opportunity to learn about careers in healthcare.
Thirty-two high school students from DeKalb, Gwinnett and Hall counties recently spent their days learning about healthcare careers from physician to pharmacist to veterinarian and dentist, among many others.
The students were participating in the PCOM Georgia Summer Math and Science Academy organized by students, Brittany Lowder (PharmD ’22) and India Chaney (DO ’23), and overseen by two biomedical sciences faculty members, Adwoa D. Aduonum, PhD, and Valerie E. Cadet, PhD.
The 2020 session marks the fourth year the summer camp, sponsored by the PCOM Georgia Office of Diversity and Community Partnerships, has been held. Although the organizers pivoted to an online platform, virtual relationships were readily formed between the high school students (mentees) and their 20 PCOM mentors who are seeking degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy and biomedical sciences. The mentees began their sessions at 9 a.m. each day and ended by checking in with their mentors who had “office hours” from noon to 2 p.m.
Tyler Rollins (DO ’23), one of the mentors, said, “The best part of camp for me was when I was able to offer my support and advice to our mentees. Many of them are minority students, and, as a minority myself, I know and understand how underrepresented we are in medicine and the higher education fields. By seeing someone who looks like them in medical school, I hope to inspire them and instill in them the will and passion to achieve their dreams.”
The mentees learned about not only healthcare topics, but also matters such as online etiquette, proper business attire, managing finances, resume writing, goal setting, time management and organization, interview skills, college and career planning, volunteering and meditation.
Medical topics presented were just as comprehensive. The students heard from a wide variety of healthcare professionals including a respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner, physician, speech pathologist, veterinarian, dentist, pharmacist and a mental health professional. They learned about healthcare informatics, abnormal psychology, and received an overview of medical research from a PCOM Georgia librarian. Additionally, they participated in an immunology activity, a hypertension clinic, extracted DNA from strawberries, painted pictures of the heart, and learned to make kombucha tea.
Academy leader Lowder said, “From healthcare information, to personal growth, to bonding games, I think our mentees truly enjoyed themselves. I am excited to see their growth in the future and loved being able to spend time with them virtually. I wish them all the best and I hope that they know we will always be here for them.”
Thanks to a $10,000 grant received from AstraZeneca through its Health and Science Innovation Challenge program, the academy was free to the students. They received all of the supplies needed to participate, including camp t-shirts. Boxes of items such as balloons and a measuring tape for a lung capacity lab; a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope for a hypertension clinic; flour, salt, cooking oil, vinegar, dishwashing detergent, food coloring, baking soda and a baking pan for an acne lab; and a kombucha starter culture kit were gathered and mailed to the students.
Aisha DeBerry, Director of Diversity and Community Partnerships, said, “I am excited that our team was able to pivot to a successful virtual experience. We acknowledged the need for students still wanting to be involved and, with intentional effort, we were able to make it happen. We hope to host our virtual graduates on campus in the near future.”
Academy participants were selected based on their status as a rising sophomore or junior, their high school transcript, a recommendation letter from a high school teacher or counselor, and an essay or video that described their interest in the healthcare professions. In addition, preference was given to applicants who were members of racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population, as defined by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Dr. Cadet said, “Since I was 13, I've worked in summer camps aimed at increasing representation of minority students in science and math and I really understand the impact that can make on an individual basis. There was no way we could let COVID-19 stop us from giving these special students the opportunity to learn from and interact with health professionals and students who could guide their educational pathways towards a more informed decision.”
She added, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with our virtual camp mentees for these two weeks and am hopeful we can meet in person in the spring.”
The program was designed to serve as a pipeline to guide motivated students toward careers in the fields of science and medicine. In addition to the students from Berkmar, Buford, Gainesville, Lanier, Meadowcreek, Riverwood, South Gwinnett and Southwest DeKalb high schools, 17 middle school African-American girls from the organization “Inspiring Greatness in You” joined the camp for three days.
Dr. Aduonum said, “I have been a part of SMSA, formerly Opportunities Academy, since the beginning and as in previous years, the enthusiasm we saw in our mentees was contagious and encouraging especially amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.”
“It truly was awe inspiring to see our young students eager to dedicate two weeks of their summer to be a part of an amazing experience that would change the trajectory of their lives. They may not all go on to become healthcare professionals but I believe the life lessons they learned will influence their future professional decisions and choices.” She added, “We will continue to mentor these future leaders on their journey to making transformations in the world.”
A commencement ceremony capped off the two-week program held from June 8 – 19. PCOM Georgia Interim Dean and Chief Academic Officer Joseph Kaczmarczyk, DO ‘82, MPH, MBA, attended the online ceremony and spoke to the graduates. He said, “I hope that you will look back on this event for years to come and remember it fondly as a turning point or perhaps a milestone in your life and career.” He added, “From this day forward, you will be on the road of life-long learning. You will do more ... much more than learn. You will understand.”
He closed by citing the words of Nelson Mandela – “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
This story was modified on July 8, 2020, to add a quote from faculty member Adwoa D. Aduonm, PhD.
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. 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 pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.
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