Federal grant to expand MCG pipeline programs for minorities

10/06/05

The Medical College of Georgia Office of Educational Outreach and Partnerships has received an $899,439 three-year federal grant to expand pipeline programs designed to increase the number of minority health care providers in the state.

New offerings will range from summer science camps that help inspire third graders to intense Saturday sessions that help prepare college students for the national Medical College Admission Test.

"We wanted to expand our existing educational outreach programs and increase the number of competitive students in our health career pipeline," said Wilma Sykes-Brown, assistant dean for educational outreach and partnerships in the MCG School of Medicine.

Ms. Sykes-Brown is project director on the new Department of Health and Human Services grant, Partnership Innovations for Pipeline Success, or PIPS. Linda S. James, director of MCG's Educational Enrichment Programs, is co-director.

Grant partners for the summer camps include the National Science Center at Fort Discovery and 30901 Development Corp., the community outreach arm for Augusta's Beulah Grove Baptist Church. The Richmond County School District is the partner for the new summer JUMP SMART program. Partners for the new MCAT preparation program, the Pre-Medical Honor Corps Initiative, include seven Georgia colleges Augusta State University, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia College & State University, Paine College, Valdosta State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University. The Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers Network will open its extensive health care provider network throughout rural Georgia so honor corps students can shadow a provider.

The partners are helping make the new programs possible and unique, Ms. Sykes-Brown said. "We are looking forward to this statewide collaborative effort."

Fort Discovery grant writer Dave Smith wrote curricula for third- through eighth- graders that focus on science and math. "Our mission at Fort Discovery is to excite kids about math, science, engineering and technology, so this fits perfectly with our mission," Mr. Smith said. Hundreds of children already come to summer camps at Fort Discovery where this year, for example, they learned about everything from Mars to dinosaurs. Beulah Grove also fills children's summers with information and fun in the Summer Explosion Program that prepares students for their next school year, said Francine Cayruth, chief operating officer for the 30901 Development Corp.

Next year, 80-100 of those children will spend their afternoons at Fort Discovery as the first participants of MCG's two-week Summer Science Camp. The new PIPS programs tie in well with Beulah Grove's plans to help children learn more about career opportunities, Ms. Cayruth said. "We already have a program in place where we bring in celebrities and dignitaries to talk with children," she said. The science camp will enable children to do the same with health care providers. "This will allow them to touch the doctors, touch the science, lead them to be involved in activities they may have not been involved with before," Ms. Cayruth said.

The hope is that the oldest camp graduates also will attend four Saturday sessions that prepare them for the new six-week JUMP SMART program for rising and 10th- and 11th-graders from Richmond County, Ms. James said. JUMP SMART will expand the existing Student Educational Enrichment Programs for rising sophomores, juniors, seniors and new graduates with an interest in the health professions. SEEP students take biomedical sciences and medical writing classes and are offered MCAT preparation and review.

The seven Georgia colleges participating in the new Pre-Medical Honor Corps Initiative will work to increase the number of graduates who successfully enroll in medical school, Ms. Sykes-Brown said. The average MCAT for under-represented minority students in Georgia is lower than the national average, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The MCAT score is one of several considerations for acceptance into most medical schools.

"Students need to start thinking about what they need to do prepare for medical school and developing those skills early on, even before they go to college," Ms. James said. "Students with educationally disadvantaged backgrounds may not have that advantage. And, once they get to college, even if they have good academic advice, it may not be too late but it's a challenge. They really need to be exposed early on and start developing those good test-taking skills and strategies. That is what this grant is designed to do."

Commerically available MCAT preparation costs about $1,500 and often students and colleges can't afford it, Ms. Sykes-Brown said. Through the grant, each participating college will annually enroll eight academically strong, motivated rising sophomores, teach the Saturday sessions on their campus and pay a portion of the cost. Pre-med advisors at the colleges will serve as program coordinators. "This illustrates their commitment to their students," Ms. James said.

Students are making quite a commitment as well. They will take two to three six-hour Saturday classes each month for two years. "We are looking for motivated students," Ms. James said. Their efforts will yield them a small stipend and great preparation, she said.

It won't take long to start measuring success because the first students start this January and should be ready for medical school in three years, when the grant expires.

Ms. Sykes-Brown and Ms. James hope the success of the programs will provide more under-represented Georgians for the overall medical school applicant pool.

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