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High School Students Encouraged to Dream Big in Medical Careers

The University of Central Florida wants to increase the diversity of students who go into medical fields. Students at nearby high schools, many of whom are from low-income families or are students of color, are curious what it takes to be a pharmacist, nurse, doctor, or scientist.

To bring these two interests together, the UCF medical school created a Health Leaders program this year in partnership with Jones High School's medical arts magnet program in Orlando. On Saturdays during the school year, students meet with medical students and professors on campus to do research together, get tips on studying, and learn about the health care field.

Today, UCF starts a new two-week summer camp for the high school students, which includes on-campus visits and a virtual biology course. The 35 students will do hands-on projects in the DNA, microbiology, and anatomy laboratories. They will also get college readiness advice and participate in a virtual science camp focused on biology.

"It's an opportunity to show them all the options and get an idea of what they want to do career-wise," says Wendy Sarubbi, spokesperson for the UCF College of Medicine, which just opened in 2009. "It's a chance for them to meet professors in various health careers to learn how they can achieve and what they need to get into the programs."

There is no cost to the students participating in program. Most are from Jones, an inner-city school in Orlando with a predominately African-American population. The rest are from rural Osceola County, which is also diverse and low-income. Local grants pay to transport the rising high school juniors to campus each day.

The program provides mentors and gives students insights into what courses they need to take in high school to be ready for college, says Sarubbi. UCF is working to develop a program with the middle school that is a feeder to Jones to motivate students even earlier, she adds.

"We want to get them ready for undergraduate work — here or wherever they go," she says. "Having spent time on campus and working with medical students, it's very inspirational for them...We want to help kids learn to dream big."

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