Community-Building to Promote Biomedical Health Careers: Faculty Research Brings Opportunities and Inspiration

GUJHS. 2004 Dec; Vol. 2, No. 1

Emily Robbins ‘06

Department of Human Science

NHS, Georgetown University

Dr. Charles H. Evans, Jr., professor and chair of the department of human science at Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, is the Director of Community-Building to Promote Biomedical Health Careers (BHC), a program that serves to enhance the interest of high school students from rural communities in health and biomedical-related careers.  Through the use of resources at Georgetown University and in the greater Washington, DC area, as well as through working to build a supportive community of role models and mentors for participants, this program allows students, teachers, and other adults from throughout the country to explore the opportunities available in science-related careers.  The two overall goals of the program are 1) to increase engagement of individuals from rural areas in the intellectual and work life of biomedical scientists and health care professions, and 2) to test the usefulness of a technologically-driven education model in drawing rural communities into the intellectually and culturally rich life of institutions of higher learning. The program accomplishes its first goal through allowing high school juniors and seniors to experience educational skill and proficiency evaluation and planning, communication and science classroom and laboratory instruction by Georgetown faculty, students, and experts, as well as career exploration during a residential three-week summer science institute on the Georgetown University campus.  The Biomedical Virtual Laboratory (BVL) facilitates the accomplishment of the program’s second goal by providing an online way in which participants can continue to advance their knowledge after the participants return to their local communities following the conclusion of the summer science institute at Georgetown University.

The specific objectives of this program are to improve the students’ academic skills, to enhance college acceptance and promote health and science majors, and to inspire participants to participate in health-related careers.  The program also aims at creating a supportive community of mentors and role models for its participants, as well as having participants act as ambassadors, bringing what they learn at Georgetown back to their communities.  “When I found out that I was accepted my whole family was excited because I would be the first in my family to go to college, even though it was only for three weeks,” replied a high school junior.

Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the on campus portion of the program began in the summer of 2003 when 28 academically-talented rising high school juniors, seniors and adults from three rural American communities: Lakota Ogala Sioux American Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, African American and Cajun participants from Napoleonville, LA, and Mexican-American students from the East Coast Farm Migrant Worker community traveled to Washington, DC and moved into Darnall Hall on the Georgetown University campus.  During the next three weeks at Georgetown University they attended lectures and field trips, experienced laboratory exercises and cultural activities, and attended science and non-science classes, all of which exposed them to a myriad of biomedical science-based careers.  Weekdays began with skill assessment and practice or career exploration, followed by biomedical science exploration, and ended with a lecture or cultural activity in the evening.  Weekends were spent exploring both science and non-science opportunities in the Washington, DC. region. Students recorded their activities in a daily journal, in which they kept track of their many field trips to destinations such as the Goddard Space Center, the Whitman Walker Center, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and Howard University Medical Center.

During the summer of 2004, 31 youth and 6 adults from the Oglala Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the Cajun and African-American community in Assumption Parish, Louisiana, as well as from Mexican-American migrant farmer worker communities in Florida and Texas came to Georgetown to participate in the second summer science institute.  Fifteen of these 31 students had participated in the program in 2003.  Returning students were given the opportunity to take a college course in human biology, “The Language of Health and Disease,” and first year students participated in a portion of the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Experiential Laboratory. Both  are courses offered each year to Georgetown undergraduate students as part of the college curriculum in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.   Students attending the summer science institute also experienced more hands on training by conducting laboratory experiments that are part of  the biotechnology laboratory course, also offered to undergraduates.  The use of the Human Patient Simulator and practice in writing a college admission essay further enhanced this past summer’s program.  Each of the 31 participants visited the Marian Koshland Museum of Science at the National Academy of Sciences, where they were the first participants in the museum’s interactive discussion program for high school students.  Student-generated discussions of exhibits with National Academy of Sciences staff while at the museum focused on basic science, environmental science, DNA, heredity and forensic medicine.


Dr. Evan’s considers “long-distance learning” crucial for the continued stimulation and development of an interest in science for individuals in rural communities, and has developed an online Biomedical Virtual Laboratory (BVL).  During the academic year, participants access a website, which is available to themselves and to the public, where they participate in science exercises, poetry, short stories and other writings and respond to science and non-science critical thinking questions.  These online exercises are the product of collaborative efforts between Georgetown undergraduate students and faculty.  As a continuation of the Summer Science Institute at Georgetown, the BVL serves both to advance the participants’ understanding of biomedical and health careers while they are in their home communities, and also facilitates the spread of this knowledge within the participants’ rural communities.

The Community-Building to Promote Biomedical Health Careers program exemplifies Georgetown University’s commitment to promoting educational opportunities, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies’ dedication to encouraging health and science-based careers in individuals who would otherwise not have the necessary exposure.  Two students (10% of the participants) have already been accepted into a four-year baccalaureate degree program; one Mexican-American is now studying pre-law and health at Ohio State University and one Lakota Ogala Sioux American Indian is studying biological science at the University of Minnesota.  The summer of 2005 will include new participants from the three communities in addition to those returning for their second summer.  And for the first time several graduates of the program may return and serve as counselors as they continue learning about opportunities in biomedical health and continue developing their leadership skills .  To learn more about this program supported by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health, please visit the website at or contact Dr. Charles Evans


Leave a Reply