Musculoskeletal Researchers Engage Local Under-Represented Students in Science

May. 24, 2017

Since January of 2017, a group of students and faculty in the Center for Musculoskeletal Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center have been mentoring under-represented or economically disadvantaged teens in Rochester. The program, called MedClub, holds monthly hands-on science lessons and provides guidance to middle and high school students in the Greater Rochester area who are interested in science or medicine.MedClub members pose at Champion Academy

MedClub grew out of a partnership between the CMSR and the Champion Academy, an extreme mentoring and empowerment initiative led by Rochester City School District alumnus and Super Bowl champion Roland Williams. The Champion Academy is a year-round program that aims to instill its 300 student participants with character and “unbreakable belief” that they can achieve their dreams, whatever they might be.

For a handful of those students, like Nygel King, a 10th grader enrolled in Champion Academy, the dream is to become a doctor or scientist. “I joined MedClub to further my knowledge of medicine because of my mom,” said Nygel. “She has diabetes and I almost lost her three times, so that made me want to know more about her disease.”

Once a month, about 30 students take a break from regular Champion Academy programming to join MedClub. These students get a chance to perform hands-on science experiments ranging from owl pellet dissections to learning how drugs can be delivered in hydrogels. The students also get some insider knowledge about medical and graduate school from MedClub mentors. In February, the students toured the CMSR and got a behind-the-scenes peek at life in a lab.

Other students, like Nygel, hope that MedClub can give them a foundation of knowledge to help them reach their goals. Eighth grader Shakira Jones hopes to someday become a geriatric nurse after caring for her grandmother who battled breast cancer. She believes joining programs like Med Club now will give her a leg up later.

Nygel and Shakira are among seven Champion Academy students who will continue scientific training in URMC’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) this summer. MedClub mentors encouraged the students to apply for the NYS-funded summer science program for under-represented students and helped them with their applications.

Alayna Loiselle, Ph.D., assistant professor of Orthopaedics in the CMSR who spearheads MedClub, feels the program also benefits the mentors. Partnering with the Champion Academy offers CMSR graduate students the chance to directly interact with high-risk youth in our community, and learn to be mentors.

“This has been a fantastic opportunity for our graduate students to expand their mentoring and teaching skills,” said Loiselle. “Seeing the enthusiasm that the MedClub students have for science is a great reminder to the mentors of how fortunate we are to be able to conduct science as a career.”

Edward Schwarz, Ph.D., Burton Professor of Orthopaedics and CMSR director added, “MedClub is a perfect symbiosis that is changing hearts and minds, while educating the next generation of medical professionals in Rochester.  I’m very grateful to Roland Williams and the amazing staff at the Champion Academy for this remarkable partnership.  We are thrilled to provide a portal for these kids and young professionals to continue their quest for scientific and medical knowledge, which will ultimately help them achieve their dreams.”

Inclusion of under-represented individuals has been a mission of the CMSR since its inception in 2000. MedClub is funded through 2021 as part of the Enrichment Program in the CMSR’s NIH-funded Resource-Based Center for Musculoskeletal Biology and Medicine grant (P30 AR069655)