Summer program empowers Upward Bound students through service-learning and more

a student practices sutures
Upward Bound students participate in the Health Care Learning Village course this summer. Photo courtesy Dr. Sabrina Walthall

Editor’s note: This column was written by Dr. Sabrina Walthall, who is professor of science and pre-health adviser in Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement.

In an inspiring demonstration of commitment, rising 11th and 12th grade students from Mercer University’s Upward Bound program embarked on a truly transformative summer filled with service-learning and health care integration courses.

Sabrina Walthall headshop
Dr. Sabrina Walthall

Each morning, the students immersed themselves in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, preparing to teach genetics, biology and chemistry to younger children at the Frank Johnson Recreation Center summer camp in Macon.

This initiative aimed to create a safe and inclusive environment where students from diverse backgrounds could explore STEM and learn valuable skills like collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving.

On Friday afternoons, the Upward Bound students participated in a health care integration course, which provided them with valuable insights into the medical field. This course expanded their knowledge of the health care system and social determinants of health, as well as opened their eyes to potential career paths in this dynamic industry.

I designed this service-learning summer experience to provide the Upward Bound students with a genuine taste of what it’s like to be a Mercer student. Drawing from my expertise as a Governor’s Teaching Fellow, I incorporated engaging teaching methods such as community norm building and peer-to-peer instruction.

By employing these interactive strategies, we not only increased the students’ knowledge but also instilled in them a sense of confidence and passion for STEM subjects. This newfound confidence allowed them to inspire younger students and ignite their curiosity, paving the way for their own personal growth and discovery — a mission I hold dear for all my STEM students at Mercer.

The involvement of Upward Bound students in this service-learning course had a profound impact, both on the students themselves and the community they served. Through their teaching and mentorship, the students not only expanded the knowledge and skills of the younger children but also experienced significant personal growth and development.

Furthermore, the community witnessed the positive effects of service-learning, as young learners were exposed to exciting STEM activities, gained a deeper understanding of scientific concepts, and hopefully developed a genuine love for learning.

one student takes the blood pressure of another student
Upward Bound students participate in the Health Care Learning Village course this summer. Photo courtesy Dr. Sabrina Walthall

Upward Bound students took their educational experience one step further by integrating with professionals in the health care field through the Health Care Learning Village course. The primary goal of this course was to expose the students to the diverse range of opportunities within the medical industry and ignite their interest in health care-related STEM fields.

Students took part in a question-and-answer session with Upward Bound alumni and twin brothers Dr. Michon Craig, a family physician, and Mickel Craig, a certified physician assistant. In addition, the rising 11th grade science students embarked on an on-campus field trip to visit the School of Medicine to learn from Dr. Robert Sarlay Jr., assistant professor and senior director of medical practice, and current medical student Mary Catherine Stamey. Be-Atrice Cunningham, director of pathways, programs and events at the School of Medicine, coordinated the session.

headshot of dr. ansley booker
Dr. Ansley Booker

Dr. Ansley Booker, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, spearheaded the Health Care Learning Village, which culminated with immersive, hands-on activities with physician assistant students and alumni. This initiative was led by Shannon Jackson, clinical assistant professor and physician assistant academic director in the College of Health Professions, with an extended thank you to Erin Lepp, clinical associate professor and coordinator of community engagement.

“Participating in the Health Care Learning Village and interacting with physician assistant students proved to be a transformative experience for the Upward Bound students,” Dr. Booker said. “The exposure to the medical field allowed them to reflect on their personal interests and strengths, shaping their career aspirations and goals.

“Even for students who may choose different career paths, the Health Care Learning Village equipped them with transferable skills that can be applied to any professional setting, fostering their personal growth and development.”

a woman in scrubs measure the height of a student
An Upward Bound student participates in the Health Care Learning Village course this summer. Photo courtesy Dr. Sabrina Walthall

The unwavering dedication and enthusiasm displayed by the Upward Bound students during the summer exemplify the incredible power of community engagement and intentional immersive learning. It is evident that such initiatives have a profound impact on shaping the future leaders of our community and the health care industry.

Mercer’s Upward Bound, a Federal TRIO Program led by executive director Tracy Artis, is funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant. The program provides essential support to disadvantaged high school students, empowering them to excel in their precollege performance and prepare for their higher-education pursuits.


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