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PCOM Georgia holds healthcare summer camp for underrepresented students in metro Atlanta

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    Atlanta, GA (Gwinnett Daily Post) — Thirty-two high school students from metro Atlanta participated in the PCOM Georgia Summer Math and Science Academy, where they had the unique opportunity to learn about healthcare careers ranging from physician to pharmacist to veterinarian to dentist, among many others, for free for two weeks.

The 2020 session marks the fourth year the summer camp, sponsored by the PCOM Georgia Office of Diversity and Community Partnerships, has been held. The program was designed to serve as a pipeline to guide motivated students toward careers in the fields of science and medicine.

Although the organizers pivoted to an online platform, the academy was made possible thanks to a $10,000 grant from AstraZeneca through its Health and Science Innovation Challenge program. The students who participated in the academy were from DeKalb, Gwinnett and Hall counties.

The academy was organized by students Brittany Lowder and India Chaney and was overseen by faculty members Adwoa Aduonum and Valerie E. Cadet.

“Since I was 13,” Cadet said, “I’ve worked in summer camps aimed at increasing representation of minority students in science and math and I really understand the impact that can make on an individual basis.

“There was no way we could let COVID-19 stop us from giving these special students the opportunity to learn from and interact with health professionals and students who could guide their educational pathways towards a more informed decision. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with our virtual camp mentees for these two weeks and am hopeful we can meet in person in the spring.”

At the academy, the students heard from a wide variety of healthcare professionals, including a respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner, physician, speech pathologist, veterinarian, dentist, pharmacist and a mental health professional.

They learned about healthcare informatics, abnormal psychology and received an overview of medical research from a PCOM Georgia librarian. Additionally, they participated in an immunology activity, a hypertension clinic, extracted DNA from strawberries, painted pictures of the heart, and learned to make kombucha tea.

“From healthcare information, to personal growth, to bonding games, I think our mentees truly enjoyed themselves,” academy leader Lowder said. “I am excited to see their growth in the future and loved being able to spend time with them virtually. I wish them all the best and I hope that they know we will always be here for them.”

A total of 20 PCOM mentors seeking degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy and biomedical sciences participated in the academy. In addition to learning about healthcare topics, students also learned online etiquette, proper business attire, managing finances, resume writing, goal setting, time management and organization, interview skills, college and career planning, volunteering and meditation.

“The best part of camp for me was when I was able to offer my support and advice to our mentees,” Tyler Rollins, one of the mentors, said. “Many of them are minority students, and, as a minority myself, I know and understand how underrepresented we are in medicine and the higher education fields. By seeing someone who looks like them in medical school, I hope to inspire them and instill in them the will and passion to achieve their dreams.”

The grant from AstraZeneca went toward supplies like camp T-shirts; boxes of items such as balloons and a measuring tape for a lung capacity lab; a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope for a hypertension clinic; flour, salt, cooking oil, vinegar, dishwashing detergent, food coloring, baking soda and a baking pan for an acne lab; and a kombucha starter culture kit that were mailed to the students.

Academy participants were selected based on their status as a rising sophomore or junior, their high school transcript, a recommendation letter from a high school teacher or counselor, and an essay or video that described their interest in the healthcare professions.

Preference was given to applicants who were members of racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population, as defined by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

In addition to the students from Berkmar, Buford, Gainesville, Lanier, Meadowcreek, Riverwood, South Gwinnett and Southwest DeKalb high schools, 17 middle school African-American girls from the organization “Inspiring Greatness in You” joined the camp for three days.

“I am excited that our team was able to pivot to a successful virtual experience,” PCOM Director of Diversity and Community Partnerships Aisha DeBerry said. “We acknowledged the need for students still wanting to be involved and, with intentional effort, we were able to make it happen. We hope to host our virtual graduates on campus in the near future.”

A commencement ceremony capped off the two-week program held from June 8-19. PCOM Georgia Interim Dean and Chief Academic Officer Joseph Kaczmarczyk spoke to the graduates.

“I hope that you will look back on this event for years to come and remember it fondly as a turning point or perhaps a milestone in your life and career,” he said. “From this day forward, you will be on the road of life-long learning. You will do more, much more than learn, you will understand.”

He closed by citing the words of Nelson Mandela — “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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