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September 13, 2012

Gateway program introduces teens to health careers

Fifty-seven students and new graduates of area high schools spent the last two weeks of June on campus to learn about careers in the health science field. Called Gateway to the Health Professions, the program inspires teens to know that their aspirations are in reach.

“The idea of working in a hospital, being able to see patients’ faces light up as they are treated, and helping those that need me is my ultimate dream,” said participant Sarah Ustrell.

The program is for African American, Latino, Native American, and underprivileged students. Together, minorities make up about 25 percent of the United States population, yet they represent less than 10 percent of health professionals. The Gateway program aims to help close that gap. It also targets teens from families who have not attended college.

“I have a passion for one day having a career in the medical field,” said Stephanie Arellano. “It’s the one thing I have always been sure about.”

Others are less sure. Participant Michael Strickland says he would encourage all teens to attend the Gateway program and take lots of notes, even if they aren’t positively interested in a health career. During graduation on June 29, several students in this category said they now plan to pursue a health career.

The curriculum not only introduces different health science careers, but it also teaches lessons on leadership, SAT preparation, study skills, and applying for financial aid in college. The students practice networking, interviewing skills, and résumé building. Additionally, 22 students stayed on for a third week to shadow professionals on the Loma Linda campus.

The program introduces participants to a variety of health professions, some of which they have never heard of before—public health ranking No. 1 in this category. But there were other new discoveries. Aubrey Perez, for example, first heard of physician assistants during the Gateway program. Daniela Salinas learned about radiation technology, which she would possibly like to pursue.

“No one in my family has graduated from college, and I aspire to be the first,” Daniela said, “not only to make my family proud, but to make myself proud and prove that I can accomplish my goals.”

She is not the only one in this position. Of the 57 participants, only two-thirds have parents who graduated from high school. More than half of the parents didn’t attend college. At the conclusion of the program, 93 percent of the students said they plan to go to college. And Salma Amparan is already thinking of the next generation. “I want be a great influence for my siblings,” she said.

The Gateway program is conducted by the LLU Institute for Community Partnerships.

The institute promotes collaboration between the campus and the community to ensure that the university is both relevant and responsive through research, teaching, and service.

“I strongly believe that career pathway programs are some of the most important work that we do on this campus,” said institute director Juan Carlos Belliard, Ph.D., M.P.H., “because they not only transform individuals, but families and communities. Through these efforts we are investing in the future of our community and our workforce.”

Participant Jill Fanning wants exactly that. “I pursue life with a smile in hope that I will make a positive difference in our community,” she said.

Chase Evans agreed. “I know that I can contribute to society in a positive way. If I could put smiles on multiple faces per day, that would be priceless indeed.”

The Gateway program combines three former student mentoring programs: Si Se Puede for Latinos, College Exodus for African Americans, and Partners in Progress for Native Americans.

This story was originally published in the Aug. 31 edition of Today.

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