STEM Camp Introduces Gwinnett County Youth to Health Professions
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PCOM Georgia Opportunities Academy Graduates 41 Students

July 6, 2023

A graduation ceremony on Friday, June 30, marked the end of PCOM Georgia's weeklong 2023 Opportunities Academy for 41 Gwinnett County high school students. Joined by their parents, the celebration recognized the personal development of all students as well as distinguished individual and group achievements.

High school student uses a stethoscope to examine a patient simulation mannequin at PCOM Georgia's summer STEM campLaunched in 2017 and hosted on all three campuses, the PCOM Opportunities Academy supports underserved communities by introducing them to careers in health care. According to Assistant Director of Diversity and Community Partnerships Christy Finley, EdD, who organizes the PCOM Georgia Opportunities Academy, six members of this class will be the first in their families to graduate high school. Seventeen students speak English as a second language. Consequently, besides aiming to broaden their horizons and impart skills for success, PCOM student volunteers embrace their roles as mentors and commit to relationships forged for as long as their mentees and parents desire.

Twelve PCOM students, designated as Mentors, guided the high schoolers through their daily activities. Among them, three Lead Mentors—Staicy Odhiambo (DO '26), Oriel Restificar (DO '26), and Scott Salters (DO '26) —assumed added responsibilities, such as reviewing all the applicants' essays and videos which spoke to their interest in pursuing healthcare fields. Over one hundred applied, and those accepted ranged from rising ninth graders to new high school graduates.

As Odhiambo revealed, “Some were interested in medicine but still had lots of questions.” Having immigrated to the US from Kenya with her family at age eight, Odhiambo recognized the importance of her role in the program. “The main benefit for them,” she said, “was seeing students who looked like them in such a prestigious program and realizing we were willing to answer questions that they might not want to ask a teacher or be scared to ask a physician.”

 “Although the Opportunities Academy is intended to provide STEM experiences for the students, we all feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity to teach, nurture, and affirm the kids to pursue their dreams,” said Restificar. “For many of us, I believe it was a healing experience to uplift these students with words that perhaps we had always wanted to hear.”

Drawn to studying anatomy early on, Salters took part in an experiential program as a rising high school senior. “Through that internship, I decided to go into medicine,” he said, noting that few kids at 16 or 17 are certain, and many change their minds. “There's so much power in knowing what you don't want to do,” he added. He applauded the writing and painting activities that enticed mentees to reflect on their experiences and intentions. In fact, Salters said, the youngest child in the program showed the least confidence in expressing himself but “blossomed out of this world and had a greater perspective of healthcare.”

To keep students engaged, each day presented a different theme—e.g., immunology, anatomy, wellness—and made the hands-on exercises fun. A blood typing activity, for instance, was titled “Whose Baby Is It?”

“Participants dissected sheep brains in the anatomy lab, created aspirin, competed in a bone-assembly relay race and STEM field-day activities, learned CPR, visited the Museum of Illusions, and spoke with a health professions student panel,” shared Dr. Finley.

Gwinnett area high school students listen to an anatomy lecture at PCOM Georgia.While Dr. Finley is just beginning to gather data on the paths taken by past mentees, immediate feedback is promising. “Their experience during Opportunities Academy 2023 improved their understanding of potential careers in the STEM+M field; increased their knowledge of the medical admissions process; increased their level of confidence in pursuing a career in healthcare; enhanced their leadership abilities; and strengthened their ability to collaborate in a team environment,” said Finley.

Graduates are also spreading the word, so interest in Opportunities Academy is growing. The program was made possible by a grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation and provides everything, including breakfast and lunch each day. That's essential to PCOM's mission of serving underserved students, inspiring them to choose professions that enhance the lives of others.

Learn more about PCOM Georgia's Opportunities Academy.

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  • About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

    Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, non profit leadership and population health management, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit or call 215-871-6100.

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