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The University of South Alabama College of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion recently hosted SouthMed Prep Scholars (SMPS) Research Day. Through partnerships established with Dillard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and Xavier University, a group of highly competitive students from these institutions are given the opportunity to engage in one or two summer research experiences at the USA College of Medicine.
During the summer, seven undergraduate students gained invaluable research experience and presented their summer research projects.
Dr. John Marymont, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the USA College of Medicine, said partnerships with historically black colleges and universities are designed to enrich the diversity of the physician workforce and enhance educational experiences. “Our SouthMed Prep Scholars Program provides students with exposure to the university and prepares them for the rigors of medical school, while supporting the growth of a community that is underrepresented,” he said.
Nkemdi Agwarambo, a 2017 graduate of Xavier University, recently completed the program. As the first graduate of the program, Agwarambo served as a mentor scholar to the students, assisting them with summer orientation, mock interviews, and preparing for their research presentations. He opened the event by offering helpful advice, as research day marked the first time presenting research for many students.
Agwarambo said the experiences offered by the program led him to see “the gem that USA is,” and influenced his decision to attend USA College of Medicine this fall.
Sydney Brown, a rising junior at Dillard University, summer project focused on the “Formation of Endothelial Cell Networks.” Together, Brown and her principal investigator Dr. Sarah Gebb, assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at the USA College of Medicine, studied angiogenesis.
“Programs like SouthMed Prep Scholars are especially important for minorities because it gives us opportunities that we may not have had before,” Brown said. “I chose to participate in this program to prepare myself for medical school and to help me become a more competitive applicant when applying to medical school.”
“The SouthMed Prep Scholars Program serves to facilitate the preparation of highly qualified students who aspire to become physicians and complement the USA College of Medicine recruitment of underrepresented groups,” said Dr. Johnson Haynes, assistant dean of the office of diversity and inclusion, professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine and director of the USA Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.
According to Chante’ Hendrix, diversity coordinator for the office of diversity and inclusion and the SMPS program director, the program is important as it helps students navigate a successful path into medical school. “Students are exposed to research, shadowing, mock interviews, simulation experiences, mentoring and networking with College of Medicine faculty, staff and students,” she said. “The program’s objective is to help strengthen more diversity in the physician workforce and build solid relationships with our partners at five historically black colleges and universities as they help support our presence and growth.”
“Looking at how much the program has grown and how much growth remains in the future, I am excited and proud to say that I was the first to complete the SouthMed Prep Scholars Program,” Agawarambo said. “I was once told that when you walk through a door you have two options: you can either close that door for others behind you or you can hold it open. I am confident that with the help of Dr. Haynes, Mrs. Hendrix and my SouthMed Prep Scholars family, the door will remain open.”
Like the majority of SMPS, this was Alesha Westbrook’s first research experience. A rising sophomore at Spelman College, Westbrook was quite nervous about transitioning to a new environment and the expectations surrounding research. However, she notes that her principal investigators Dr’s. Silas Leavesley and Tom Rich gave her such an ease into learning about her project on Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate. She said she was presented daily with an article to read related to research and or her topic, she practiced seeding cells, sterilization, conducting microscopic experiments, running and analyzing data, and making movies from the data that she analyzed. Westbrook adds, “I was also able to gain insight on preparing for medical school through this program."
The ODI staff is grateful for the enthusiasm and support offered by the USA College of Medicine principal investigators and staff. “A special thank you to Dr. Troy Stevens, Dr. Michael Francis, Dr. Silas Leavesley, Dr. Tom Rich, Dr. Sarah Gebb McMurtry, Dr. Jon Audia and Dr. Sarah Sayner,” Hendrix said. “Opening their labs to our scholars provided an enriching and rewarding experience.”
Both Dr. Haynes and Hendrix are also very thankful for the rewarding shadowing experiences that the scholars were provided by faculty at USA Medical Center. A special thanks goes to faculty in the Medical Intensive Care Unit, Family Medicine Department, Emergency Medicine Department and Internal Medicine Department.
For many of the scholars this was their first time shadowing. Kiara Carmichael, a student at Tuskegee University, describes her overall SMPS summer as “one of the most eye-opening experiences” that she has had in college. Further, she says shadowing allowed her to network with doctors and residents and gave her the opportunity to see “what really goes into being a doctor.” For Carmichael, exposure to the SMPS program has “confirmed that medicine is the career path” that she definitely wants to take.
SouthMed Prep Scholars is a pre-medical school enrichment program comprised of a select number of academically competitive freshman and sophomore students. The program continues through the students’ senior year of college and is designed to enhance medical school access and success through two eight-week summer sessions that focus on research, MCAT preparation and the interview process.
View more photos from SouthMed Prep Research Day here.
To learn more about SouthMed Prep, click here.
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