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CMU Health Careers Pipeline Program

Building a health career pipeline

Community education program to add local high schools, open a branch in Saginaw

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​A Central Michigan University program that started exposing underserved area high school students to opportunities in health professions in 2015 is expanding its reach.

Beginning this fall, the Health Careers Pipeline Program, launched with the help of then-second-year medical students Nicholas Cozzi and Leonard Verhey, will include Michigan students from Clare, Beaverton, Midland and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, said April Osburn, program coordinator for the Mid-Central Area Health Education Center, a nonprofit housed in CMU's College of Medicine.

The program had focused on Mount Pleasant High School, Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant and Montabella High School near Blanchard, Michigan.

In spring 2019, a new nine-week session will begin in Saginaw, Michigan, with Saginaw Public Schools, said Osburn.

"The ultimate benchmark will be seeing our pipeline students land into health professions … serving the communities where their roots lie." ­— Leonard Verhey

Over its three year, the pipeline program has worked with a combined total of nearly 80 area high school students and mentors from CMED and The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, said Osburn, who along with Lisa Hadden, Mid-Central AHEC's executive director, designed the program with Cozzi and Verhey.

Value of mentorship

A three-tiered mentorship design is key, Osburn said. The high school students are mentored weekly by undergraduates in health professions, and both groups get mentored by CMED students.

Five CMU students have been with the program since its inception: current seniors Brooke Halliwill, Ellen Brandell, George Sawaya III and Jacob Bahry, all studying biology/biomedical sciences; and Jeffrey Wolber, studying neuroscience.

Each returned yearly to grow as students and make a difference.

"I enjoyed mentoring the students and sharing their excitement about a career in health care," said Wolber, who plans to attend medical school.

He said he benefited by building relationships with the medical students, who answered his questions about their medical school experiences.

One of the reasons Bahry signed up was to share tips on having a successful undergraduate experience, but he said he learned a lot from his mentees and medical student mentors. He plans to stay at CMU to pursue his Ph.D. in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology.

Brandell, who had been involved in a similar program in high school, found it was a way to give back.

She said she benefited by keeping focused on her goal of applying to CMU's medical school this summer.

"I was able to have conversations with the medical school students that made me feel more confident in my education plans."

Halliwill, who this fall will begin dental school at the University of Michigan, used her experience with her first pipeline mentee to describe the benefits of being a mentor and why she continued.

She said the girl was extremely quiet and unsure about a lot of things, including being on a college campus. While trying to bring her out of her shell, Halliwill discovered the girl loved horses and that she wanted to be a rodeo medic.

Halliwill told her she had never thought of that, but said it was an awesome idea.

"After that point, she really opened up to me, and I watched her confidence grow with each class. After a few weeks, she would be the first to volunteer for our exercises. The difference in her from the first class to the last was remarkable.

"I love seeing that kind of transformation happen to people."

Big dream

That experience is an example of why Cozzi and Verhey began the program.

"Pipeline not only gives young people a chance to grow, but it also allows them to benefit from one-on-one mentorship with a CMU undergraduate as well as develop personally, explore health careers and get ready for college," Cozzi said.

"My dream is that the program continues to expand and impact more high school students in the Great Lakes Bay region."

Verhey said he is humbled by the program's success. "But the ultimate benchmark will be seeing our pipeline students land into health professions programs and be recruited into health care careers in mid-Michigan, where they commit themselves to serving the communities where their roots lie."

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