Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Charting the Course

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Charting the Course

Article excerpt

Rutgers' Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences provides step-by-step guidance to help aspiring minority physicians fulfill their dreams.

Alyson McGhan had aspirations of becoming a doctor, but when she arrived on the campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey four years ago, her major was undecided. "I knew I wanted to become a doctor, but I just wasn't sure how to go about the whole pre-med track," McGhan says.

Rutgers' Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences (ODASIS) stepped in immediately and began helping McGhan plan for medical school during her freshman year. A 21-year-old senior who is currently applying to medical schools across the country, including Emory and Stanford universities and the University of Pennsylvania, McGhan says she is more confident that a career in cardiology is well within her reach.

"They've been helping me in terms of telling me what courses to take and also providing the resources I need in order to do well in my classes," she says, adding that an intensive seven-month MCAT preparatory course offered through ODASIS helped expand her option? for medical school.

"I got a really high score and right now I'm applying to medical school knowing that I'm possibly going to get in with scholarship money," McGhan says.

Over the last two decades, ODASIS has helped hundreds of undergraduate students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds prepare for careers in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program has turned out 400 doctors, dentists and other health professionals. This year, the program has hit a stride: 33 out of 40 ODASIS students from the Rutgers' class of 2007 started medical, dental and doctoral programs this fall compared to the dozen or fewer ODASIS students that typically get admitted to these programs each year. Another 25 ODASIS alumni - all Black and Hispanic - graduated from medical school this year and are now practicing physicians in hospitals, medical centers, clinics and private practice.

Officials credit ODASIS' emphasis on graduate and professional education and its various tutoring initiatives, workshops and summer programs for its continued success in grooming future scientists, physicians, researchers and medical practitioners.

Dr. Corey Smith, an emergency room physician at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., says ODASIS gave him valuable mentorship opportunities during his undergraduate years at Rutgers.

"Really, there was no one in my life to say, 'this is how to make this dream come together.' And diat's probably the No. 1 thing that the program does. It just gives you me opportunity to meet young professionals in the health care industry and learn how they did it, learn from their faults and follow their footsteps," says Smith, 30. "I always had a vision of being a physician, but I never really had a true plan."

That's where ODASIS comes in.

"Our goal at ODASIS is to get more African-Americans and Hispanics into the health allied professions ... mostiy medical school," says Dr. Kamal Khan, associate director of ODASIS, adding that 161 former ODASIS students have earned medical degrees since the office began keeping records in 1990. "You see students come in here and somebody has told them, 'No, you can not become a doctor.' And then later you see them as they walk down the hallway with that M.D. degree, and no one can take that away from them."

Rutgers ranks No. 9 in Divexse's 2007 "Top 100" producers of minority graduates in the biological and biomedical sciences, the most common major for pre-medical school training.

Easing Into Medical Careers

ODASIS actively starts engaging students in the STEM disciplines as early as the 11th grade, says Khan, adding that ODASIS works jointly with New Brunswick school officials to identify high school juniors who have an interest in the STEM fields. …

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