PCOM Hosts Science and Math Summer Academy

This week, PCOM kicked off its second annual summer program aimed at improving diversity in the STEM+M fields (science, tech, engineering, math and medicine) by enhancing awareness of, and interest in, careers in those fields among African-American and Latino students from Olney Charter High School.

The PCOM Science and Math Summer Academy (formerly known as PCOM Opportunities Academy) will span two weeks, and the rigorous curriculum will give students hand-selected by partner institutions ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania (which oversees Olney) and Esperanza College the opportunity to augment and accelerate their STEM+M skills, learn about the college and medical school admissions process, explore career possibilities, and learn interactively in PCOM’s clinical simulation and anatomy labs and on field trips.

Rising 10th grade students applied to the program, and were selected for participation based on criteria including academic performance, demonstrated perseverance and drive, and a strong interest in the STEM+M fields.

Each day, the Summer Academy focuses on a different health topic and is led by PCOM faculty and medical and biomedical sciences students. In the program’s first week, students learned about the cardiovascular system with Cathy Hatcher, PhD, assistant professor, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology; and the central nervous system with Denah Appelt, PhD, professor, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology. As coordinator of the Summer Academy, Dr. Appelt also oversaw the development of its curriculum.

“The goal of the program is to create a pipeline with our partners at ASPIRA Schools and Esperanza College that helps foster interest in, and awareness of, STEM+M careers at the earliest stages, and to help support students and inspire them to pursue their interest in these fields,” she said. “Our hope is that these students feel empowered to follow their dreams.”

Surveys from last year’s participants indicated that 57 percent said their plans after high school had changed since taking part, and 62 percent said they were now considering going to medical school.

“We want to raise the level of interest in all STEM+M fields among students of color,” said Marcine Pickron-Davis, PhD, chief diversity officer. The Office of Diversity oversees the program at PCOM. “Our overall goal is to increase diversity in those fields, but we would love to see them applying to PCOM for medical school.”

During its second week, the Summer Academy will focus on infectious diseases in sessions led by Dawn Shell, PhD, associate professor, pathology and microbiology; cancer, in sessions led by Heather Montie, PhD, assistant professor, biomedical sciences; and diabetes, in sessions led by Arturo Bravo Nuevo, PhD, associate professor, neuroscience. First- and second-year DO students from PCOM also assist with the sessions.

Summer Academy participants will also take field trips to the Franklin Institute, one of Philadelphia’s leading scientific institutions, and to Esperanza College of Eastern University, Pennsylvania’s first Hispanic Serving Institution, where they will learn about life as an undergraduate student, from Nilsa Graciani, PhD, director of science, math and medical assisting at Esperanza College. “We are excited to be involved in this collaboration that has a potential to make a much needed difference in our communities. With the right amount of support, encouragement, and opportunities, all students, regardless of their background or ethnicity, should be able to succeed,” said Dr. Graciani.

"We want to thank the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) team for their faith in our community and commitment to building the Latino and African American presence within the STEM-M field. It is through partnerships like ours that Olney Charter High School students will become the home grown leaders they are meant to be," said Andrea Gonzalez-Kirwin, superintendent of ASPIRA Schools.

The Summer Academy marks the cornerstone of a partnership that spans the academic year, with PCOM faculty collaborating with faculty from ASPIRA Schools and Esperanza College on professional and curriculum development and the establishment of practicum and research opportunities.

Students from Olney Charter High School also participate in the College’s annual Research Day, and year-round in its affiliations with national programs such as the Health Professions Recruitment Exposure Program and the Perry Initiative. Students from Esperanza College’s Science and Medical Assisting programs are provided access to PCOM’s laboratories and simulated clinical environments. ASPIRA Schools also serve as clinical practicum sites for PCOM’s School Psychology graduate programs.

The PCOM Science and Math Summer Academy received funding from the 3M Foundation, AstraZeneca, CSL Behring, Teva Pharmaceuticals and the VWR Foundation.

This article was originally posted on PCOM.edu.