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Stanford Report, March 4, 1998

Outreach program to help low-income students: 3/98

Youth project reaches out through high school workshops, Web site


A new outreach program, with a Web site and high school workshops to start this year, is expanding the number of low-income high school students who benefit from the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP).

Now in its 11th year, SMYSP's summer academic program has been highly successful in helping disadvantaged high school students go to college and pursue careers in the health professions. Increased demand for the program has made broadening its reach a top priority, said Mailee Ferguson, executive director of SMYSP.

"Each year we accept 23 students into our summer program, but we receive more than 300 applications from students who want to participate," Ferguson said.

The new outreach program will make SMYSP's resources more widely available, starting with a Web site that students can access through their high school libraries or local public libraries. A second component of the outreach program will send former SMYSP students and other volunteers into selected high schools to lead interactive workshops on college preparation and careers in health care.

"Many students from low-income backgrounds have little access to counselors and other sources of information about college preparation and health career opportunities, while we [at SMYSP] have all this useful information that we've been giving to students in our program for the past 10 years," Ferguson said.

"We want to keep the workshops simple enough that past participants can take the curriculum and do outreach at underserved high schools near them," she added. "A lot of this has been going on informally, but we want to give them useful material and information that they can pass on to students."

In addition to mobilizing SMYSP alumni to take part in the high school visits, program organizers hope to recruit Stanford faculty, medical students and undergraduates to serve as guest speakers and workshop leaders at local schools. "We've talked to several pre-med organizations [on campus] and to some medical students who have expressed interest, and we would love to get some faculty involved in the workshops," said Kate Lupton, SMYSP outreach coordinator. (For information on volunteering, call Lupton or Ferguson at 498-4514.)

Lupton is putting together the new Web site, which she plans to have up and running by May. The site will provide tips on college preparation and financial aid, career guidance for the health professions, and other information drawn from the summer program, she said. It will also include profiles of past participants in the summer program.

"We're trying to make the information on the Web site as complete as possible," said Lupton. "It's always difficult to pick the 23 students who participate in our summer program ... and this allows us to share our resources with other students."

The information Lupton is compiling for the web site will also be used to create a curriculum for the workshops, to be held during the school year starting in September. SMYSP staff have been contacting local schools and organizations to identify promising sites for launching this part of the outreach program, Lupton said.

"The first year we'll probably focus on a few schools and youth organizations, and then we can expand from there," Ferguson said.

SMYSP was founded in 1987 by two Stanford undergraduates together with Marilyn Winkleby, a senior research scientist in the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention. Its aim is to increase the number of health care professionals who understand the social, cultural and physical needs of low-income and ethnic minority populations.

The five-week summer residential program currently draws students from more than 200 urban and rural high schools in northern California. It is almost entirely staffed by Stanford graduates, who serve as dormitory counselors, arrange guest lectures and coordinate program activities.

Ferguson, who worked on the summer program for three years as a Stanford undergraduate, was hired last August as SMYSP's first full-time executive director. After graduating in 1996, she spent one year at Indiana University on a fellowship, learning about management and funding of nonprofit organizations. "It was the perfect complement to my knowledge of the program, and I came back with a lot of ideas," she said.

Winkleby remains active in the program as an adviser. "It was nice after 10 years of voluntarily directing the program to have the financial stability to hire a full-time director ... and it's incredibly gratifying to see this expansion of the program," Winkleby said.

"[Ferguson] is wonderful," she added. "She's just off and running."

Winkleby credits SMYSP's excellent track record with helping to ensure the long-term viability of the program. Of the 216 graduates of SMYSP since 1987, almost all have gone on to college and about 80 percent have stayed in the health care field, she said. One former participant recently graduated from Harvard Medical School and returned to Stanford to interview for a residency, Winkleby noted.

The program targets students primarily on the basis of socioeconomic status rather than ethnicity. "Our highest priority is to reach highly disadvantaged youth who have academic promise and who are excited about science and medicine," Winkleby said. "That gives us ethnic diversity, and because all students are from underserved backgrounds they have a commonality among themselves."

An evaluation and tracking system allows the staff to keep in touch with participants after the summer program and document their progress. Being able to demonstrate how much students have gained from the program is extremely helpful in attracting funding, Winkleby said. The network of program alumni, most of whom are now attending universities and health professional schools throughout the country, also serves as a valuable resource for the outreach program, Ferguson said.

In August, SMYSP began operating under the auspices of the School of Medicine's Center of Excellence, which supports programs for underrepresented minority students, as well as projects focused on minority health care issues. The center oversees the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) for undergraduate students and an early-matriculation program for minority students entering the School of Medicine.

"We now have a pipeline of support for underserved students, starting in high school," said Ferguson. "Three of last year's HCOP students had been through our summer program when they were in high school."

The SMYSP budget continues to rely on independent funding through foundations and individuals. The Packard Foundation has been a long-term supporter and was instrumental from the beginning, Winkleby said. Leo J. Hindery Jr. of Atherton has been a generous individual donor, she added.

"It's wonderful to see this expand into a year-round program for youths throughout the United States," Winkleby said. "Stanford School of Medicine now has the opportunity to become recognized as a supporter of multiple, complementary programs that are mentoring underserved youth who are interested in entering the health professions." SR