"Providing a Menu of Career Options": Underrepresented Students Tour MCW Campus

Justin Perez, participant in MCW's pipeline programs

“In high school, I liked watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy. That is really where my interest in medicine started,” Justin Perez recalls.

For many students, their interest in medicine begins and ends there. But Perez, then a sophomore at Milwaukee’s Carmen High School of Science and Technology, was motivated to pursue a spot in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s pipeline programs. These programs support students who are traditionally underrepresented in medicine by exposing them careers in the field.

Now a freshman biomedical science major at Marquette University, Perez returned to tour MCW’s campus January 9 with 17 peers, but this time as part of a different program. The students share a common interest in medicine and are a subset of the inaugural cohort of 40 college freshmen participating in All-In Milwaukee, a local coalition of education partners dedicated to helping low-income, high-potential students graduate from college.

Perez is an All-In Milwaukee Ramirez Family Foundation Scholar. The Ramirez Family Foundation invested in Justin and is supporting him through the All-In Milwaukee program.

“Only 14 percent of Milwaukee’s high school graduates will earn a two or four-year college degree,” says Allison Wagner, founding executive director of All-In Milwaukee. “But with the right support – including financial, academic, social, career training and development support – we can get these students through the finish line and into the workforce.” The organization, she explains, is based on a similar program in Minneapolis with proven success. All-In Milwaukee provides comprehensive support through a network of pathway partners, universities, donors and advisors in order to build a diverse workforce for Milwaukee.

“Scholarships alone are not enough. Underrepresented students need wraparound services when they are entering college or their first job,” Wagner explains. “These 40 students were selected because they excelled in high school. We want to make sure they excel in college.” Community partners like MCW, she says, play a major role in giving underrepresented students exposure to previously inaccessible career fields.

“We want them to develop the skills to matriculate into the workforce. Partnering with institutions like MCW shows them what steps they need to take now to be career-ready when they graduate,” she says.

Including Perez, eight students from the visiting cohort in January have expressed interest in attending medical school. The tour included a visit to MCW’s STAR Center medical simulation lab, a stop at the Hub for Collaborative Medicine and a talk with Malika Siker, MD, who presented information on MCW’s pipeline program options including Student Enrichment Program for Underrepresented Professions (StEP-UP) and Diversity Summer Health-Related Research Education Program (DSHREP).

Wagner says she hopes to see a growth in diversity in Milwaukee’s healthcare workforce and that visits like this can make this a reality. “Ultimately, we want these students to explore a menu of career options and understand what programs they can participate in now to get there, while feeling layers of support around them,” she says.

Perez, who has participated in both MCW’s Apprenticeship in Medicine (AIM) and StEP-UP programs, agrees that early exposure to career options will give him a significant advantage when he enters the workforce. He has already seen more of medicine than most pre-med college seniors and has attended lectures in anatomy and physiology, received training in CPR, participated in the simulation lab and shadowed a trauma surgeon. But it is the community support and help from community leaders, he says, that helps him most.

“Something that will stay with me from the tour was when Dr. Siker told us that if we are the future of the medical field, that the future is in good hands,” Perez shares. “It means a lot that she sees the potential we have and that people like her believe in us.”

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