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East Chapel Hill AVID Expands Students' Visions for the Future

Kimberly Manning teaches Biology and also serves as the AVID Coordinator at East Chapel Hill High School (ECHHS), and she didn’t need to think twice about expanding students' knowledge and access to opportunities and pathways in the medical professions. A former ECHHS Wildcat, Michael Newton, is now a first year student at UNC School of Medicine, and a member of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), an organization committed to supporting current and prospective underrepresented minority medical students and increasing the number of health professionals of color. For his SNMA outreach initiative, he thought of his former high school and his friends who were AVID students, and with a few emails, Manning and Newton were connected and ready to design a collaboration.

“Essentially SNMA is driven to improve the diversity gap that exists within medicine,” Newton said. “We want to change the landscape of medicine. and one of the major ways we go about this is via direct community engagement. The goal of our partnership with AVID is to be able to utilize resources available to us through UNC to provide the students with speakers and opportunities from different fields within medicine, and therefore deliver as much exposure to careers in medicine as we can. Our hope is with students demonstrating an interest in pursuing a career in medicine, to connect them with medical student mentors.”

“Our alliance with UNC School of Medicine is part of the East AVID program's initiative to provide a more personalized experience for our students,” Manning said. “Fortunately, Michael contacted me to see if AVID and the UNC School of Medicine could form a partnership to try and have more students seriously think about becoming health care professionals.”

On May 17, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Pathology at UNC, Dr. Georgette Dent, spoke to the ECHHS AVID students via Google Meet, and she projected a tremendously warm and entertaining presence, even in a virtual presentation. 

Dent shared her journey, beginning with growing up in a family of teachers. “I didn’t know any Black doctors or scientists growing up, and I assumed I’d be a schoolteacher,” she said. She attended the North Carolina Governor’s School in social sciences, but  found the students in biological sciences “more interesting.” Dent attended Duke University and struggled through the adjustment. “I was the only person of color in my calculus class, and I got a D,” she said. But she said she quickly learned how many people will support you and help you. 

When a student asked Dent what advice she gives young people who aren’t sure if they’re interested in medicine, she said, “Focus on getting to college first. Once there, you’ll have access to so much more information, and you’ll have advisors.” Dent shared her decades-long fascination with “why people get sick.” But she didn’t find her specialization, pathology, until well into medical school.

“You can’t give up at your first bump,” Dent said, noting how many pathways to medicine and allied health professions exist. She shared the story of her first clinical rotation at the Durham VA Hospital. “It was too traumatic,” Dent said. “My patients were so sick with alcohol-related cancers, lung cancer and dementia. I wasn’t mature enough and I was overwhelmed.” But the next rotation was obgyn, and that switched her mindset.

Another student asked what choices there are for people who like science but don’t want to spend so many years, or so much money on medical school. “You can be a bench scientist working in labs,” Dent said. She described the career her niece has found, after deciding medical school wasn’t for her. “She’s a genetic counselor, one of the only Black women in that field, and she makes a good living.”

One AVID student emailed Ms. Manning before the session with Dr. Dent had even wrapped up. “I loved this guest speaker today,” she wrote, “and I was hoping that if there are any internships that Dr.Dent will share with you. I would love to apply for them. I am very interested in this field and I want to get more knowledge on it.”

The first speaker in this new series was Orange County Health Director and Medical Director for Occupational Health at UNC, Dr. Erica Pettigrew. She spoke at the end of January in regards to COVID, the COVID vaccination and many of the implications for the students and what they might expect moving forward. In the fall of 2021, Newton hopes to arrange at least two other speakers through SNMA before he passes the liaison role to another student in the organization.

Manning said, “I have been working with several community agencies to transform our AVID program into one that will expose more students to different available career choices so they can make better choices by their senior year.”

“We hope to tailor our AVID students’ educational experience from Day One,” Manning said. She encourages students to explore summer bridge programs to accelerate their course work and free up space in their class schedules for a wider range of subjects.

AVID students will have the option to engage with the District C courses, as well as High Five, a national mentoring program that helps students prepare for professions in corporate America.

Lead High School AVID Coordinator, Nick Winstead, said, “Community partnerships and opportunities for our students to hear from professionals and figures in different career fields are a vital part of our district's AVID program. Our students get the chance to ask questions and engage with individuals who are working in the very fields they see themselves in in the future, such as medicine. The information and life experiences that students have heard as a result of this partnership with SNMA and the wonderful speakers they have brought in gives our AVID students authentic connections. They truly get to see how their path to college and then a career field can come true, especially from professionals who have walked a similar path to theirs.”