With only its first year of operation behind it, the Aspiring DOctors Precollege Pipeline Program at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cleveland has already passed an important milestone: graduating its first class of high school seniors.
Thirteen young men and women from Warrensville Heights High School, who were in the initial set of Cleveland-area high school students to take part in Aspiring DOctors, have completed the program and are headed to college, with most aiming at careers in health care.
The success of the program so far “has exceeded everyone’s expectations,” according to Samantha Baker, assistant director of admissions and outreach at the Heritage College, Cleveland.
Baker teamed with Senior Director of Campus Administration Terra Ndubuizu to design Aspiring DOctors after Heritage College, Cleveland, Dean Isaac Kirstein, D.O., asked them to develop a pipeline program to boost future enrollment of under-represented minorities. Staffed by Heritage College faculty, staff and students, the program offers high schoolers interested in health care careers a mix of academic STEM enrichment, personal mentoring and hands-on learning activities.
“It was heartwarming to see our first set of students graduate high school,” Kirstein said. “In our first year running the program, they taught us more than we were able to teach them. We have already been able to adapt our program based on their energetic participation and feedback.”
Ndubuizu, herself a graduate of the Warrensville Heights school system, said it was “truly inspiring to watch the seniors grow over this past year… I watched firsthand as this program gave the students increased levels of confidence, self-awareness, motivation and engagement about their education and their future.”
Members of the first graduating class left with an extra boost in the form of scholarship money, thanks to funding from the St. Luke’s Foundation and the city of Warrensville Heights. The St. Luke’s Foundation provided $650 scholarships for 12 qualifying students, and Warrensville Heights awarded a $1,500 scholarship to one graduate, Marshe Robinson. During the first year of the Aspiring DOctors program, the city contributed $12,500 toward project expenses, and the Cyrus Eaton Foundation provided $1,800 for program support.
In her scholarship application essay, Robinson shared her aspiration to become a nurse, so she can work to improve health care for minority populations. The Aspiring DOctors program, she wrote, not only “motivated me to work harder in my core classes” to better prepare for nursing school, but “also opened my eyes to the real issues in my community,” including Ohio’s high infant mortality rate, which she hopes to help reduce.
Another graduating senior, Nina Jones, said the program helped crystallize her career goals.
“I was confused on which major I wanted to go into or what field,” Jones said, having considered becoming either nurse or physician. “I went to Aspiring DOctors to see which field I wanted to go into, and what it was like to get the real feel and experience of it. When I came out, I knew I wanted to do nursing.”
Jones said she most enjoyed hands-on clinical experiences such as a visit to the anatomy lab, but that the program also helped her to improve her communication skills and teamwork.
When senior Aaleyah Little was interviewed earlier this year, she said her goal was to become a pediatric surgeon. She’s now on her way, with plans to major in pre-medicine at North Carolina A&T State University. Taking part in Aspiring DOctors “has improved my interest (in medicine), through the things that we’ve gotten to do,” Little said.
Aspiring DOctors has been a learning experience for organizers as well. “I have enjoyed every minute with our high school students – they have challenged me to grow as a higher education professional, and I’ve had the honor of watching the juniors and seniors gain a sense of confidence about their own futures,” Baker said. “They’ve put on the scrubs and white coats and can truly see themselves becoming the next generation of health care professionals that northeast Ohio needs.”
Ndubuizu said that for her, “One of most important aspects of the program is exposing students to African-American and Hispanic role models they can self-identify with.” For Kirstein, the program represents “a big part of how we define ourselves at the Cleveland campus of the Heritage College… It validates the priority we at Ohio University place on partnering with, and improving, the communities we call home.” He added that the program is clearly making an impression, with a number of schools in the area having asked how their students can get involved.
Graduate Jones said she would certainly encourage other high schoolers to give the Aspiring DOctors program a try, even “if they don’t know what major they want to go into, whether it’s in the medical field or even if they want to do law. You never know – you might go into Aspiring DOctors and change from law to go into doctoring. So I would tell them to go ahead and explore – it’s exciting!”