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Summer outreach programs for high achieving students delivered online

Programs bring high school and college students into UMass Medical School fold

By Kylee Denesha and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

July 24, 2020

Each year, the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Summer Enrichment Program and High School Health Careers Program host high achieving students from backgrounds underrepresented in health care and biomedical sciences at UMass Medical School. They carried on this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, going all online.

The 54 college undergraduates and 18 high school students applied themselves to rigorous virtual academic classes, performed experiments and conducted research in small groups on- and offline.

The programs are run by the Office of Outreach Programs to expose participants to the real world of health care and biomedical sciences careers and how to prepare for them.

Faculty, postdocs and students from the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences shared insights from their own career paths and discussed cutting-edge research via daily lectures. Student groups presented their findings to a panel of faculty judges, and honors for the best presentations and most outstanding students awarded were at the virtual closing ceremonies.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program, supported by a longstanding grant from the National Institutes of Health, with additional funding from the UMMS Provost’s Office, is designed to interest college students in laboratory research, clinical research and related careers. Students come from across the United States and U.S. territories.

For Kwabena Acheampong, a rising junior at Lafayette College in New Jersey majoring in biology and minoring in biotechnology/biomedical engineering, the program appealed to his desire to address health disparities. He is a first-generation college student whose parents are from Ghana.

“I was exposed to job opportunities I didn’t know about,” said Acheampong, who is considering an MD/PhD program. “Being a research doctor who can be involved in clinical trials is something I’d be very interested in.”

The research project assigned to small groups during the two-week online curriculum was to develop a proposed application for a current technology or research method to address a critical unanswered biological or clinical question. Acheampong was on the team whose first-place proposal addresses SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

He is spending the rest of the summer continuing to conduct research into the higher prevalence among African American men than European American men of certain genetic mutations in lung cancers.

The Summer Enrichment Program is a tuition-free educational immersion that helps the participants improve their qualifications and competitive standing for admission to professional or graduate school.

Rising UMass Amherst junior Carl Marcelin participated in conjunction with the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, of which he is a member. The BaccMD program puts qualified students at the university’s undergraduate campuses on track to matriculate into the School of Medicine.

“I appreciated learning about health disparities to understand the reasons behind the statistics that we see and the solutions that we can help implement when we get into the field ourselves,” said Marcelin. “It’s important to be culturally competent and well-rounded, so the value of these programs is they give you information from different perspectives.”

Marcelin was raised by his mother in Haiti until they were able to join his father in the United States when he was 6 years old. He said he dedicated himself to helping people get medical care after experiencing the death of his grandmother and little sister due to inadequate health care in Haiti.

“I have something my parents never got—a chance to pursue a career,” he wrote in his personal statement. “I want to do my part as a future role model to help people from backgrounds similar to my own.”

Marcelin was honored to receive the special recognition award from Robert Layne, MEd, assistant dean of outreach programs and director of the High School Health Careers Program.

Now in its fourth decade, the UMMS High School Health Careers Program for Massachusetts high school students exposes participants to health care careers and their educational requirements at an early stage in their academic development. Students are encouraged to set high academic goals and develop concrete strategies to achieve them.

Fatimah Daffaie, a rising senior at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, and Nery Matias, a rising junior at Everett High School, have made new connections and new friends to accompany them on the road ahead.

Experiencing hardships in her family’s journey from Iraq to Worcester sparked Daffaie’s interest in mental health. Since participating in a Department of Psychiatry internship last year, she has set her sights on medical school.

“Growing up in Iraq, where sadly the medical system and the hospitals are not that great, developed my interest in helping people,” said Daffaie. “Doing this program inspires me to keep moving and following my passions and learning as much as I can.”

Matias found the program sharpened his academic focus. Loving math and science, he plans to double major in biology and computer science to be able to integrate bioinformatics into future research. He also plans to become licensed as an emergency medical technician before college so he can volunteer in that capacity at school.

“I want to dive right into the medical field and interact with patients early on,” said Matias. “I’m more prepared for college because the program introduced us to people who gave us advice on what we should be doing in our undergraduate years.”