Summer Pipeline Program fosters high school students’ interest in science, medicine

Summer Pipeline Program 2016
During EIH II, high school students spent time at in a chemistry lab at Kalamazoo College's Dow Science Center.

When her mother suffered a brain aneurysm two months ago, panic was the last thing on Brenna Powell’s mind.

The 15-year-old calmed her younger sister, rolled her mother on her side and began speaking calmly to her to bring her mother’s heart rate down.

Her know-how that day, Ed Powell says now, came from the time his daughter spent this past spring at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine for the medical school’s Saturday Science Academy.

And he has no doubt that his daughter’s actions in June saved her mother’s life.

“She was able to handle it pretty well,” Ed Powell said. “It’s a miracle.”

Ed Powell’s remarks came earlier this month as he and his wife, Laura, watched Brenna and 24 other local students be honored for their participation in Early Introduction to Health Careers II, a two-week program that is part of WMed’s Summer Pipeline Program and forged through a partnership with Kalamazoo College.

EIH II is the medical school’s first-ever pipeline program and seeks to stoke an interest in biomedical science and health careers among underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged high school students from Kalamazoo Public Schools and the Kalamazoo area. With that goal in mind, it is hoped that a more diverse student population will enter the biomedical sciences and healthcare fields, reducing the disparities that exist.

The program is supported by grants from the Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation, Dorothy U. Dalton Foundation and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

“It was amazing,” said Cheryl Dickson, MD, the medical school’s associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs and associate professor for Pediatrics. “I think that the Summer Pipeline Program was everything I expected and more.”

Brenna was one of 17 students who took part in the Summer Science Enrichment camp after attending the Saturday Science Academy in the spring.

The science academy took place from February to June and gave students an opportunity to hear about career opportunities in healthcare and learn about science through a healthcare lens during sessions led by medical school students. They also took part in a skills-based component in the medical school’s Simulation Center and learned about study skills and financial resources for college.

Brenna will be a junior at Loy Norrix in the fall and has her sights set on being a doctor.

“I’ve loved everything about it,” Brenna said of her time in the Saturday Science Academy and her two weeks in EIH II. “I love it.”

The medical school partnered with Kalamazoo College for the EIH II. The students who took part spent one week – July 25-29 – at K-College, where they got hands-on experience working in a chemistry lab at the Dow Science Center.

The following week – Aug. 1-5 – the teens came to WMed, where they spent time in the medical school’s anatomy lab with second-year medical students learning about the heart and lungs. They also were in the Simulation Center where they got an opportunity to learn how to take a patient’s vital signs, including blood pressure.

Summer Pipeline Program 2016
Seventeen high school students took part in the EIH II summer pipeline program.

“I think one of the most impactful things about this program is we’re building connections in multiple ways,” said Lakshmi Ramachandran, a second-year student at WMed who worked with the high school students. “(The medical students) want these high school students to have an amazing experience. It really was medical-student driven.”

Prior to their week at WMed, the teens’ time at K-College proved valuable and engaging as they learned how to extract caffeine from Mountain Dew and examined how the body metabolizes caffeine, among other things.

“I’m hoping to develop a curiosity, an ability to think about problems,” said Dr. Laura Furge, associate provost and Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Professor of Chemistry at K-College, who worked with the students during their time at the Dow Science Center.

Additionally, Furge said she wanted to increase the students’ knowledge “about science and how science supports medicine and the understanding of medicine.”

During the week at K-College, the high school students kept track of their progress in lab workbooks, learned about lab safety, conducted hands-on experiments, and looked at protein structures through the use of 3-D printing. In the lab, they wore white lab coats while working under the guidance of Furge and two K-College students, and also got to spend their lunch breaks each day with students and professors from the college.

“I’ve never done any of that before,” Australia Smith said of the week she spent at K-College. “Seeing all of that was like, ‘Whoa!’. Being in there doing those experiments … I felt like a scientist.

“It made me feel important.”

Australia, 17, will be a junior at Loy Norrix High School in the fall. She calls herself an overachiever and she plans on graduating from high school early and using the Kalamazoo Promise to pursue a nursing degree at Western Michigan University.

“I’m a person who shows you a person who failed and had to get back up again,” Australia said recently. “I was down, I was at my bottom and I had to keep going and push through.”

That “bottom” Australia speaks of came this past November when her 24-year-old brother suffered a heart attack at the family’s home in Kalamazoo. Her brother died that day and had to be revived by paramedics.

Her brother is home now, and Australia says she and her family still don’t know why, at such a young age, he suffered a heart attack. His ordeal, though, has fueled Australia’s passion to be a nurse and use her skills to help those in need.

“Continuing to help people is what I want to do,” Australia said.

Australia’s mother, Marcina Smith, said her brother’s health scare “matured” Australia and helped her daughter see “life is real … and how important your health is to you.” Australia’s interest in nursing has only grown since November and taking part in WMed’s pipeline program has helped her gain more knowledge about nursing and what it will take for her to accomplish her dream, Smith said.

“I think that this was a great opportunity for Australia, as well as the other young ladies in the program,” Smith said. “… I’m very excited for her and I love the program. To see people care and come together, I love it.”

During the first part of the week they spent at WMed, the students dissected a sheep heart and lungs and examined the different parts of each. Later, they taught each other about the different parts of the heart and lungs through PowerPoint presentations.

By the end of the week, they learned how to check a patient’s blood pressure, among other things, through hands-on exercises in the medical school’s Simulation Center. On the final day, they got to take part in a skills showcase and presented posters of different case studies for their parents.

“I was really excited about starting and day by day … I’ve been more excited about going to college and pursuing the dream of what I want to be,” said Camille Richardson, 15, who will be a junior at Kalamazoo Central High School in the fall.

Camille, who enrolled in the Summer Pipeline Program after learning about it from her best friend’s parents, has aspirations of attending medical school and entering the field of obstetrics and gynecology.

Camille said she was appreciative of the opportunity that she got through the Summer Pipeline Program to spend time with the medical students at WMed and learn from them what to expect in medical school and what colleges to attend prior to medical school.

While students like Camille walked away with a deeper appreciation for science and the healthcare fields, Ramachandran and other WMed students said they grew from their time working as facilitators for the pipeline program and mentoring the high school students.

Ramachandran said the medical students have forged relationships with the high school students that will last well beyond the program.

“They’re in an environment where they are surrounded by people who think science is terrific,” Ramachandran said. “It’s really important for these high school students to know they can be passionate about whatever they want to be passionate about … They are now like, ‘I can do this and WMed has my back and K-College has my back.’

“… Everybody feels like this is mutual. They’re giving to us; we’re giving to them.”

Nathan Whelham, a second-year student at WMed, said his work with the high school students, helped rekindle his excitement about medical school and served as “a reminder of why we came to medical school in the first place.”

Michael Chavarria, also a second-year student at WMed, echoed Whelham’s sentiments. Chavarria talked about how, as a medical student, it is easy to become immersed in studying and the day-to-day grind of medical school. But working as a facilitator with the pipeline program, Chavarria said, was a great opportunity to give back to the community and, he said, “probably the coolest thing I feel like I’ve done.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to do something with the community,” Chavarria said. “You’re helping students … It’s just rewarding to get to help out.”

WMed will begin taking applications for its next Saturday Science Academy in September. For more information about the program, contact Dawn DeLuca, Health Equity and Community Affairs coordinator, at 269.370.3948 or