Christina Oyelola, 14, wants to be a pediatric surgeon someday. And why wouldn’t she? For the past five years or so, she’s had a chance to experience all sorts of neat medical activities. “I liked looking at the cow’s heart the best,” said Christina, a freshman at Jefferson Junior High, adding that she doesn’t get squeamish. Christina is a regular at Caleb, The Science Club, a 15-year-old medical program for students in fifth grade through high school.
Don’t let their ages fool you, though. These students are learning about the same topics medical school students study. This year’s syllabus includes CPR training, a lesson in radiology and dissection of an animal’s heart, said Ellis Ingram, club founder and an associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. “This is no small endeavor,” Ingram said. “We’re really presenting the students with a serious academic challenge.”
Caleb is held one Saturday a month. Students are paired with medical school students who serve as mentors. Afterward, students eat lunch with their mentors in university dining halls.
Ingram funds the program mostly through volunteers and out of pocket. MU’s enrollment department helps out with meal tickets, hoping the program will encourage students to someday become Tigers. The program got a financial boost in 2004 when then-President George W. Bush honored Ingram with a Presidential Award of Excellence for his mentoring efforts. The award came with a $10,000 grant, which has helped sustain Caleb.
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The activities are open to anyone, but the club especially strives to encourage black students to become familiar with science. “Especially for minority students, when they see a medical student who looks like them, they make a connection,” Ingram said. That’s also a goal for the Student National Medical Association, which hosted the discussion and hands-on CPR exercise Saturday in Acuff Auditorium in the medical school. “We endeavor to encourage diversity in medicine,” said Julie Watkins-Torry, a second-year medical student.
Wanting to be a doctor isn’t a prerequisite to join the club, nor are all club members aspiring to work in the field of medicine. “They come because they’re challenged,” Ingram said. “We have lofty expectations, and they rise to the challenge. They’re serious about academics. … We’re creating an appetite for learning, an appetite to become leaders, and because of that we’re creating a new culture of aggressive learners.”(source)