Physician astronaut tells students to reach for the stars

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

March 10, 2011

Fourth-year School of Medicine student Aaron Harman was honored to serve as student host for Dr. Satcher’s visit to Worcester from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to NASA’s Medicine in Space program. Harman hopes to become an astronaut after earning his MD at UMMS.

Photo by Maxwell Brown

Instead of sleeping in on a weekend morning, about 150 local high school and college students, parents and educators were energized by the “Discover Your Future in Biotechnology, Biomedical Research and the Health Professions” conference on Saturday, March 5. Held by the Consortium of Worcester Colleges (COWC) at Worcester Technical High School, the first-of-its-kind event in Central Massachusetts showcased the wealth of biomedical research, biotechnology and health sciences programs available at the region’s colleges and universities.

“With at least 40 different programs preparing students for professions that are major economic engines for the commonwealth and Central Massachusetts, we are putting Worcester on the map for higher education in workforce development,” said Deborah Harmon Hines, PhD, professor of cell biology, and a member of the Biotechnology, Biomedical and the Health Professions Task Force of the COWC Chief Academic Officers Committee, which developed the program. “We have a spectrum of public and private higher education institutions right here, including UMass Medical School, Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, one of only 28 accredited private veterinary schools in the country.”   

Keynote speaker Robert Satcher, MD, PhD, the first orthopedic surgeon to become a NASA astronaut, launched the program with a lively discussion about his personal experiences in the sciences, illustrated with dramatic photos and video from his 2009 mission to the International Space Station. “I’m here to inspire the next generation of explorers, whether they ever leave earth or not. Events like this give us the opportunity to reach as many students as we can,” said Dr. Satcher, who is also clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas-Houston. 

Following Satcher’s keynote, morning breakout sessions emphasized the many career opportunities for which COWC schools provide training. Tracks included professional schools; allied and related health programs; nursing; and the business and technology of heath care. Afternoon sessions addressed college and graduate school admissions, financial aid, interviewing skills and transfer and transition issues. A photo opportunity with Satcher and a recruitment fair featuring college programs and employers capped the conference. 

UMMS was well represented by faculty and staff from the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate School of Nursing. SOM Associate Dean of Admissions John Paraskos, MD, gave no-nonsense but compassionate advice on the Medicine and Veterinary School panel; GSBS Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine Brian Lewis, PhD, participated in the Biomedical Engineering and PhD/Research segment of the Professional Schools Track; and GSN Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Janet Hale, PhD, helped demystify the array of post-baccalaureate nursing programs. Director of Financial Aid Betsy Groves gave parents and students hope about financing graduate-level education in health care; and Dr. Hines and Robert Layne, MEd, director of the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative, a longtime partnership between UMMS and the Worcester Public Schools to help prepare a diverse health care workforce, shared essential skills and advice for interviewing and professionalism. 

Students and parents alike appreciated the frank, practical input. “I’m here to learn about opportunities after my bachelor’s degree,” said Northbridge High School senior Shanise Perez, who will begin the undergraduate nursing program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “I’m here to support her by gaining knowledge,” said Perez’ mother. Added the parent of a high school junior who plans to become a surgeon, “All the useful information we learned today makes us even more confident and excited about the road ahead.”  

Related links: 

Office of Outreach Programs 
Summer Undergraduate Researchers Reap Rewards 
Enhancing Health and Science Education