MedSTEM Students Show, Prove With Capstone Concepts

August 22, 2019


Mary McLeod Bethune, American educator and stateswoman, once said, “The progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give.”

Bethune clearly understood the power of possibility. And the high school students who participated in the second annual MedSTEM Pathway Capstone Showcase at Rush University Medical Center on Aug. 8 definitely explored new possibilities and gave it their all.
The Pathways program, offered by Rush Education & Career Hub, or REACH, exposes West Side high students to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) ​and health care pathways through pre-internships, internships and independent study.
A group of 150 student interns and pre-interns worked in teams to develop an approach or solution to a real-world challenge in the health care setting and presented their ideas at the showcase.
“Groups prepare for the showcase with a capstone class where they learn the challenge, do research and learn how to put the research together,” says Natalia Gallegos, program manager of strategic initiatives for REACH.
Interns tackled one of the three following challenges:
• Redesign or enhance a Baxter product to make it easier for a target patient group to use at home
• Understand the patient journey of those living with thyroid disease, which Horizon Pharma treats
• Develop a solution for Takeda Pharmaceuticals associated with the following specific disease states:​
    • Oncology – lung or breast cancer
    • Central nervous system – epilepsy or schizophrenia
Pre-interns had to devise an awareness campaign to educate community members (children, teens, adults or seniors) on addressing a social determinant of health. Campaigns were to take place in one of the following 10 West Side anchor communities Rush serves:
  • Austin
  • Belmont Cragin
  • East Garfield Park
  • Humboldt Park
  • Lawndale
  • Near West Side
  • North Lawndale
  • South Lawndale
  • West Garfield Park
  • West Town
The students have a full six weeks to complete their projects and also participate in hands-on learning experiences within various areas of Rush that focus on providing career exploration, community health engagement and work-based learning.

And the Winners Are …
At the showcase, judges walked around and talked with student groups about their projects and the research they conducted. Once the judges identified the top three projects for interns and then for pre-interns, each group presented and then a winner was announced.
The Black Panthers was the winning intern group. Their project was centered around managing the symptoms of thyroid eye disease,​ or TED. Their solution was the TED Sleeper, an eye mask with an adjustable strap and special foam around the eye sockets to help with dry eye and to promote better sleep. As the students explain, “It’s a remedy for symptoms, not a cure.”
Winning team members included the following:
  • Anahi Botello
  • Aaron Holton
  • Nadiya Muhammad
  • Mya Smith
  • Victor Zuno
The winning pre-intern group was We, The Breast. Their project was Free Mammogram Day, where their goal was to provide a free mammogram day to females 40 to 70 years old in the West Garfield Park area. They chose this particular area because research shows there is a higher mortality rate among African American women. Their goal was also to provide education on self breast exams.
Members of the winning group included the following:
  • Sofia Caston
  • Monica Padilla
  • Elia Ton-That
​“This experience provides our students with real-world experience that they can’t really get anywhere else,” says Gallegos.​
“It’s really a question of ‘How do we make our community grow from within?'” adds Gallegos. “We’re trying to give back to community and grow and empower minds of the future.”

Volunteers Help REACH Inspire West Side Students

This summer, Rush faculty, staff and students made a real difference for dozens of high school students from the West Side. During the REACH MedSTEM Pathways program, more than 100 students interned across 30 departments at Rush University Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital. Approximately 75 volunteers spoke to classes, served as mentors, presented in classrooms and attended events to help introduce young people to the wide range of careers available in health care. The program reflects Rush’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity by partnering with the community to ensure that high school students gain opportunities for health care and STEM-related careers while also having a positive impact on social and structural determinants of health.
“The success of our programs depends on people’s willingness to be generous with their time and share their experiences as health care professionals,” says Rukiya Curvey Johnson, director of REACH. “We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who took part in this summer’s activities. Because of our volunteers, MedSTEM Pathways participants learned new skills, built new relationships and gained confidence in the professional setting.”

REACH programs need volunteers — from every department and every kind of job, both clinical and nonclinical — all year long. If you’re interested in getting involved, visit the REACH website and sign up.

Photo caption (left to right): Students Mya Smith, Aaron Holton, Victor Zuno, Nadiya Muhammad and Anahi Botello