For Carlton Walker, his experience at KC HealthTracks summer camp will stay with him well into his future. Said Walker, “I feel that just being involved in this program has contributed to my development as a person and definitely as a future health care professional.”
The program’s mentorship is at the core of why KC HealthTracks at the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies recently received additional funding of $615,792 from the U.S. Public Health Service, Office of Minority Health. The program aims to engage high school students from the Kansas City area in the health care professions and prepare them for success in health-related careers.
Going into its fifth year, KC HealthTracks has supported more than 140 students at under-resourced high schools across the metro area. Participants attend a week-long summer camp, where they have face-to-face faculty mentor sessions, visit health science programs at UMKC, Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley and Rockhurst University, receive math and science tutoring, and take part in ACT prep sessions.
KC HealthTracks offers students career exposure to each of the health sciences disciplines offered at UMKC: dentistry, health studies, medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Enrollment for the next summer’s camp will begin in spring 2020. Additional partners include the Missouri Area Health Education Council, the KC Area Education Research Council, the Urban League, and the UMKC KCStem Alliance.
This year’s camp welcomed back four alumni of the program to guide the students as camp counselors. One such alum, Nargiz Agayeva entered her second year as student at the UMKC School of Medicine.
During one of the summer camp activities, the students got to administer finger pricks to test what blood type they were. The campers’ eyes grew big when they opened packaging for the needles they would be using. But Agayeva was right there offering encouragement and first-hand experience. She even offered up her blood type to a camper and an excited “Isn’t that cool!”
Said Agayeva, “I had flashes of déjà vu as the high school students I was leading were completing the same medical activities I had performed just last year. I was
grateful to not only give back to the program that had given me so much, but also to influence the lives of so many future health care providers.”
New to this year’s camp, the program enrolled nine high school teacher leaders who attended the camp with their students. According to Ann Cary, project director of KC HealthTracks and dean of the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies, having the students’ teachers engaged in the experience amplifies the importance of the camp and creates a bond between teacher and student through shared experience.
“This new approach allows the program to translate beyond just the student and can influence the teacher’s entire curriculum, because teachers will have had that experience first-hand,” Cary said. “And we know that experiential learning is immensely important for cementing new knowledge.”
The student attendees come from 12 area under-resourced schools that UMKC has developed strong partnerships with. The schools also receive additional funding for implementing Project Lead the Way health science courses, a non-profit that develops STEM curricula, to support the health sciences curriculum provided to the students. In addition, the program is partnering with Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley for additional simulation experiences each fall and spring.
During the school year, the students receive one-on-one career development mentoring by their health education mentors and one-on-one academic advisement by UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies faculty as they are prepare for post-secondary education. Students also engage in Health Occupations clubs locally and compete in state and international health project competitions.
Having SoNHS faculty work directly with students to prepare them for higher education is a real-world example of UMKC’s commitment to urban community engagement. Students are able to share their personal experiences to give faculty advisers a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for their mentees.
According to the program manager, Lorraine Buchanan, the importance of that guidance by faculty members is on full display amongst the students moving on to the next phase of their education. The program has found that 63 percent of its graduates are enrolled in post-secondary institutions pursuing health professions immediately after high school.
“We believe we are making a difference in the lives of these students,” said Buchanan, “by enriching their academic coursework, exposing them to health professions and professionals, working with community partners and stimulating students’ aspirations to enter the health professions pipeline in the Kansas City region.”