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Providing Youth With Hands-on Experience

Providing Youth With Hands-on Experience

Boys together for Pic

“Look!  What’s that in the water?” asked Xavier Luellen, a 7th grader who was among 76 students exploring the Chicago River as a participant in the UIC School of Public Health summer public health science institute.  Luellen and his peers pulled on their hip boots, grabbed nets and viewing trays, and went into the water to find out.  This hands-on approach is part of the UIC SPH’s 6-week program that provides 6th-12th graders interested in a health profession with a summer enrichment program focused on public health science and research.


The Summer Public Health Science Institute is a rigorous program that meets Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm during the summer months.  It is part of the Urban Health and Diversity Programs Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) at UIC SPH, which is designed to encourage under-represented minorities to pursue academic programs leading to Master’s and Doctoral degrees in public health.   The program introduces its students to public health, what it is, its relevance to society and its career paths.   It also introduces young students to all the areas in which public health professions impact the health and well-being of people in both local and global communities. 

The main purpose of the program is to substantially increase the number of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans who are accepted, enrolled, retained and graduated with Master’s/Doctorate degrees in public health. The program targets the West and South sides of the city of Chicago, which represent 95% of the Health Profession Shortage Areas (HPSA) in the state of Illinois and have a very small number of individuals with Master’s and Doctorate degrees in public health.


The summer institute includes reading, writing, math, science, standardized test preparation strategies, and preceptorships for rising 12th graders.  Students also have opportunities to interact with public health professionals, public health graduate students, and health care professionals.  Guest speakers and presenters during the summer included an Emergency Room physician, a Health Scientist from the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a Health Information Technology specialist.


Chineze Okosi, a 12th grader who says he has always wanted a career in medicine, feels that this program has expanded his knowledge in many ways.  “Participating in this program has showed me that there are a lot of jobs in public health, like doing research.  I didn’t realize that research can involve the community.  I thought it was just sitting in a lab.  I am interested in helping people to make better choices and researching health disparities.  My goal is to attend UIC next year and double major in medicine and public health,” he said.


Field trips are an important part of the institute’s curriculum and on July 10th the students worked with educators from the Friends of the Chicago River. Students were able to check water chemistry, collect and observe microinvertebrates that live at the bottom of the river, and monitor the stream flow.  They used equipment like turbidity tubes to measure the water’s clarity, and test tubes to check the pH and Nitrate levels.  “I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” says 7th grader Alberto Chavez.  “It’s really exciting!”

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