When she guided the launch of Early Introduction to Health Careers (EIH), the medical school’s pipeline programs for students from Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), more than four years ago, Dr. Cheryl Dickson’s vision was simple – to provide young people in the community with new opportunities, a chance to build their dreams.
“For me, our pipeline programs are about possibilities,” Dr. Dickson said recently. “We’re reaching students who are underrepresented in medicine and other healthcare fields, as well as students from low socioeconomic status or who are first-generation college attendees. I call it building a dream and building dreams is about having possibilities and realizing ‘I can do that.’”
Now, what Dr. Dickson began in 2014 at WMed with EIH has blossomed into a program that now serves more than 180 students, including 49 KPS sophomores in EIH 2 and 80 fourth and fifth graders from KPS in EIH 1. Additionally, the EIH model is being used to serve more than 50 eighth graders from three school districts in Calhoun County as part of efforts there to create programming and support for a health care career pipeline.
All of the growth is at the heart of the pipeline programs at WMed, which are designed to champion the biomedical science and healthcare career aspirations of underrepresented youth. The programs also provide a platform for WMed students to design and teach interactive learning experiences to help elementary and high school students develop leadership, team-building, and problem-solving skills.
“The most important thing I see is the spark that happens within the students when they understand what they are capable of and can see themselves in a career that might have seemed distant to them or not meant for them,” said Dawn DeLuca, the medical school’s Health Careers and Pathways coordinator. “We are providing them with an experience that is very special and very robust, and it builds self-worth. I think students can feel when they are being poured into and something clicks in you when you feel like you are being invested in.
“The world changes for a student when they know even one person cares about them,” DeLuca added.
The medical school’s annual Imagine Gala benefits the pipeline programs at WMed. This year’s hosts, Ken and Julie Miller, will welcome guests to the 4th Annual Imagine Gala on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus in downtown Kalamazoo.
Ken Miller is a Western Michigan University alumnus and member emeritus of the WMU Board of Trustees, and CEO of the Millennium Restaurant Group. Both he and Julie have been longtime proponents of education and students in the Kalamazoo community, and stalwart supporters of the medical school. To honor that commitment, this year’s Gala will serve as the occasion for an important announcement regarding a new endeavor around EIH to ensure that high school students from the program are able to realize their dreams.
A campaign is currently underway to establish a new endowment at the medical school that will fund medical school scholarships for students from Southwest Michigan, with preference given to KPS graduates who completed EIH.
DeLuca said she has been honored to work directly with the different cohorts of students from KPS and Calhoun County. She also said that work by Dr. Dickson to make EIH a reality has led to tangible success for students who have completed the program.
For example, two KPS students who were part of the very first EIH 2 cohort in 2015 were later named recipients of the prestigious Heyl Scholarship and are now studying biochemistry at Kalamazoo College and nursing at Western Michigan University. Another KPS student, after completing EIH 2, accelerated through his high school curriculum and will graduate this spring not only with a diploma, but also with a Certified Nursing Assistant License from Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The student plans to pursue a nursing degree at WMU in the fall.
“This is a student who, prior to EIH 2, was unsure about where his path was heading,” DeLuca said. “More than anything, EIH creates a culture of goal setting and when we have goals we have direction and we’re more likely to stay on course.
“This program has been the North Star to some kids and we all need to find our North Star,” DeLuca added.
Dr. Dickson said the problem-solving skills that students gain from EIH and the exposure they get from working with WMed students and meeting health care professionals is invaluable and a major part of the success of the pipeline programs at WMed. She is also proud, Dr. Dickson said, that many students who have completed EIH are now returning to help facilitate programming for new students who come into the program each year.
“What I hope is that the students stay excited, that they walk away from the program with more self-confidence, that they see STEM as something they can do, that despite any challenges that they may have, they will be able to stay focused and obtain whatever goal they have set for themselves,” Dr. Dickson said. “I want them to have a dream and set their eyes on something and say, ‘I can do that.’”