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Building a Dream Through Representation


For students throughout the country, pursuing a career in which they are underrepresented can be an intimidating feat. Without seeing diverse representation, they may be left with the false impression that certain occupations are not for them. Recognizing that many careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields suffer from an inherent lack of diversity, Dr. Cheryl Dickson, MD came up with a solution.

As an Associate Dean for the Health Equity and Community Affairs Department in the Office of the Dean at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed), Dickson developed the Early Introduction to Health Careers II (EIH II) program.

Launched with the help of grants from the Harold and Grace Upjohn, Dorothy U. Dalton, and Irving S. Gilmore foundations, EIH II is one of two Stryker-funded pipeline programs at WMed that builds interest in biomedical science and health careers among sophomores from the Kalamazoo Public Schools and the greater Kalamazoo area. Each month, participants attend Saturday Science Academies that are led by WMed faculty and students.

“We want to expose students to a variety of career paths in the healthcare field,” Dickson shared. “Our program focuses on four parts; Day in the life, Science with a healthcare lens, skills simulation, and mentorship.”

Research exists as an additional component within the initiative’s two-week summer experience in partnership with Kalamazoo College. EIH II’s model not only exposes students to different healthcare careers but also introduces them to professionals who act as mentors. Dickson considers these connections to be crucial components of “building a dream” for each individual.

“The program helps participants consider possibilities that they never thought of before,” Dickson explained. “I came up through a pipeline/pathway and probably would not be a doctor if it were not for these types of programs and the teachers that invested in me.”

Having been in a similar position as a young girl, Dickson understands the importance of giving these students role models that look like them.

“Just to be a woman in medicine is huge and to be a black female doctor is even bigger,” The Kalamazoo Promise’s (The Promise) Director of Community Collaboration Cyekeia Lee explained. “Growing up, many of us didn’t see that. Dr. Dickson knows she can be a role model and shows others that they too can pursue a similar path. There is still a long way to go in terms of diversity in the field of medicine.”

EIH II is always looking for different ways to expand its reach to the youth who are interested in STEM fields. Last year alone, 55 students were able to participate and extensions of the program have been brought to the STEM Academy at Milwood Magnet School as well as fourth and fifth grade classrooms at Northeastern Elementary. There is also a junior high school program that exists as a partnership between Kellogg Community College and the Battle Creek Public Schools.

One cannot help but be impressed by what Dr. Dickson and the EIH II staff have been able to do in the last six years. Our community is fortunate to have a program that broadens the horizons of our students while providing them with positive role models. We are excited to see what is next. Keep on building those dreams!

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