One of the biggest challenges educators face in this country is how to get and keep American youth excited about studying science and pursuing careers in science, medicine and health care.
The common perception is that American kids don't like science or math — a perception reinforced by a recent survey that ranked U.S. public school students 17th in science among 34 developed nations. Not exactly something to brag about.
At Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, they think they have found one solution: paid internships for high school students. That's right, high school students are working and getting paid at one of the nation's top hospitals. And these are not "make work" jobs. They are real tasks, giving students real experience in a field that can often seem intimidating. The students are paired with mentors from the hospital who instruct them and serve as role models.
The year round Student Success Jobs Program is looking for kids who have a passion for science or medicine or just for taking care of others. They do not have to be straight A students. Tutoring is provided if their grades start to slip, because being one of these interns is a big commitment: 10 hours a week during the school year, 25 hours a week during the summer. But the rewards for the students are great.
"If we can capture them earlier, five or six years earlier, they can get that hands-on experience, their passion just multiplies," says Amy Belyea Aina, Youth Development Manager for Brigham and Women's.
Seventy-five Boston high school students participate. Most are from minority communities, and that is one of the great attractions of the program for Dr. Selwin Rogers Junior. He heads the hospital's Trauma and Burn Unit. This African-American doctor says he remembers coming up in a medical field "where there weren't a lot of people who looked like me or talked like me."
Today, Dr. Rogers is mentoring Devine Williams, who dreams of becoming an anesthesiologist. Why does Dr. Rogers add Devine to his already jam-packed day? He says it's in the hope "that Devine will do it for somebody else."
When the program began a dozen years ago, Belyea Aina says, there was some reluctance from some people in the hospital to participate in the program. Now there is a waiting list of medical and health care professionals who want to mentor these students and show them that a career in science, medicine or health care is an achievable goal.