Observing trauma surgeries, rounding with residents, decoding DNA in the lab – these are just a few of the activities that 24 Baltimore City high school students have undertaken at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) this summer. The students are UMB’s cohort of the YouthWorks biomedical summer employment program, a program of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development that seeks to pair ambitious city high school students with one-month summer jobs in their dream fields.
At UMB, the students – from schools including Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Green Street Academy, and Digital Harbor High School - are connected with mentors, faculty members who agree to shepherd the teens for the one-month paid summer job program in June. Mentors this year come from the schools of dentistry, pharmacy, and medicine, and students work in laboratories and clinical spaces.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a 1976 graduate of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, met with the group for lunch on July 21, and spoke about their own paths to fulfilling careers.
Perman, a pediatric gastroenterologist, introduced himself by telling the students that when the meeting was over, he would start doing the job that truly brings him joy - seeing patients at his President’s Clinic. Though his duties as University president certainly are demanding, he is truly fulfilled by his work with patients, he told the group. “I don’t want to give it up,” he said. “It is a privilege to make people feel better. I hope you catch the same bug that I’ve had for years.”
The lives of the YouthWorks group are not so different from his own childhood in South Baltimore, Cummings told the students. Cummings’ parents left school in the third grade to begin work to support their families, but they raised him to value education. His family was poor, and faced discrimination in Baltimore. Until sixth grade, Cummings was mistakenly assigned to special education classes that were well beneath his capabilities. A teacher gave him the chance to work hard and prove that special education classes weren’t for him, and the opportunity changed his life, according to Cummings.
“My life has been on a trajectory upward ever since,” Cummings said.
A few key factors in success, he added, are to think big, to be sure to associate with inspiring and supportive people, and to not get discouraged.
“We create ceilings in our minds and say, ‘I can’t do this,’” Cummings said. “All of us know people in our families and who grew up with us … who didn’t make it to high school. For some reason, you all are on a path to great things. What you do in the next few years will determine the rest of your life.”
Support like the students find at UMB in the YouthWorks program is critical to their success, despite the obstacles ahead, Cummings told the teens.
“I thank you for making their dreams your dream,” he said to Perman.
The students, ages 15 to 18, ranged from ninth- and 10th-graders to those who just graduated from high school in May. Those graduates were headed to colleges such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the University of Maryland, College Park, and Towson University. They are working with clinicians in the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, studying leukemia blood cells in the School of Medicine, researching pregnant women and depression in the School of Pharmacy, and shadowing students in the clinic at the School of Dentistry.
Sydnie Taylor, 17, just graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic and is headed to UMBC in the fall. Her shadowing experience in the School of Dentistry confirmed her desire to pursue a career in pediatric dentistry, she said.
James Arrington, 18, a Green Street Academy student, said he is “learning a lot of life lessons” in his work at Shock Trauma with mentor Laura Buchanan, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine. “I’m taking in everything and I’m going to use it down the road,” he added.