By Laura Toraldo
(April 25, 2017 — BALTIMORE, Md.) A new University of Maryland–Baltimore program is helping West Baltimore students tap into their potential.
Launched in October 2015, the UMB CURE Scholars Program is the first middle school program of its kind.
Noticing the need for a health career pathway for West Baltimore students of color, the program collaborates with the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to foster and inspire the next generation of diverse health care workers.
UMB CURE Scholars Program’s Assistant Director Lauren Kareem said not only does the program provide the opportunity to learn about health care careers, scholar’s also learn about health itself.
“There are many unfavorable health disparities that exist in communities of color,” she said. “That also played a really large role in inspiring the program.”
Kareem explained that students are not selected based on test scores or report cards.
“We ask students, ‘Do you like science? Are you committed to to the program?’,” she explained. “Overall commitment and level of enthusiasm are our most significant admissions criteria.”
More than 65 students from Green Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter, and Franklin Square Elementary are enrolled in the program. Scholars are paired at a 5-to-1 ratio with volunteer mentors—primarily medicine, nursing, pharmacy, denistry, social work, and law students from campus. They meet three days a week after school for hands-on workshops and field trips.
“You can learn, but while you’re learning you’re enjoying learning,” seventh grade scholar Tyler McKenzie said. “My progress has tremendously skyrocketed.”
Within a week, program scholars can learn skills from computer coding to building robots to researching cancer treatments. The ultimate goal: exposure to careers in health care, STEM-based jobs, and a wealth of other career possibilities.
“We hope to see a range of professions—lawyers, surgeons, medical illustrators, researchers,” Kareem said. “Even though they enjoy science, we want to support them in everything they are interested in.”
Support continues from middle school through high school and ultimately throughout a scholar’s career choice, with ongoing mentorship and assistance with funding for higher education.
Though only in their second year, the success is already tangible. Kareem said not only have they seen both test scores and grades go up, she has seen a transformation in scholar’s career aspirations.
“I had a student say to me, ‘I used to want to be a hairdresser, now I want to be a surgeon.’”