Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program at OUWB aims to further middle schoolers’ interest in medical field
Kassy Kneen (left), M2, helped lead a session on blood pressure during the 2019 DAPCEP Medical Explorers camp hosted by OUWB.

About 40 middle schoolers spent the last two weeks at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine as part of a program aimed at raising student awareness about the multiple pathways to a career in medicine and health care.

Co-sponsored by the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, the Medical Explorers program welcomed two groups of 20 each for four days of learning about anatomy and physiology of the human body through hands-on activities and face-to-face interaction.

Most of the sessions were at the Oakland University campus in Rochester, though the Medical Explorers program also included a half-day field trip to the Moceri Learning Center at Beaumont Hospital, Troy.

This year marked the third year of the Medical Explorers program being held at OUWB.

Caryn Reed-Hendon, Ph.D., director, OUWB Diversity and Inclusion, said the school hosts the program because research shows that in the pre-teen and early-teen years, students start to lose interest in STEM.

“In middle school, the time when being smart starts to be seen as not socially acceptable, the drop-off of interest in mathematics and science is staggering,” said Reed-Hendon, who noted she has a passion for connecting middle school students to opportunities in medicine.

“Partnering with DAPCEP allows us to show the students that not only is it acceptable to show off intelligence, but that it has a myriad of choices for future careers. We are helping to set them up for academic success and social success in the near future.”

Those who helped lead sessions throughout the week were impressed by the questions the middle schoolers had about the medical field as well as their level of engagement.

“To me, it’s kind of fascinating how much kids know these days,” said Tyler Sargent, M2. “I’m just amazed at how much interest has grown.”

Sargent worked with Grace Kummerfeld, M2, on an ENT presentation at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, for the Medical Explorers. Students learned how to use retinoscopes to examine eyes.

DAPCEP 2019 - ENTBut they had plenty of questions, too.

“We were thinking we would have to get really good at distilling complicated information down to a level where they would be able to understand it, but it really surprised me how much they already know coming in,” Kummerfeld said.

Kummerfeld said she believes much of the knowledge at a younger age stems from access to myriad sources via the internet.

“They hear these strange words and can go Google it now,” she said. “Even at the middle school level they know so much more than I did when I was 12 years old.”

According to its website, the mission of DAPCEP is “to increase the number of historically underrepresented students who are motivated and prepared academically to pursue degrees leading to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields through K-12 supplemental educational programming.”

Medical Explorers is one of many other offerings by DAPCEP. Other offerings cover topics ranging from coding and engineering to car design and math and physics in engineering (also held at Oakland University).

Ms. Angel has been a chaperone for DAPCEP for 10 years. Her sons took part in the program when they were younger. One of them is now a doctor.

“(DAPCEP) just plants seeds,” she said. “A child might hear something that sparks interest in whatever field they end up pursuing, it’s important to get them engaged now, so they can start preparing.”

Ms. Angel said kids who take part in DAPCEP often participate in other summer camps and are naturally curious. They also tend to have parents who promote exploration of various career fields. For these reasons, she said, it isn’t surprising to her that the students have so many solid questions for those experts leading sessions throughout the week.

During the neuroscience session, Foundational Medical Studies Associate Professor Gustavo Patino, M.D., Ph.D., was impressed when students asked questions about the autism spectrum disorder. One student asked what Patino considers to be an upper-level philosophical question about the benefits of keeping a person alive when they are considered brain dead.

Beaumont field trip

DAPCEP 2019 - Sim LabAt the Morceri Learning Center at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, DAPCEP participants took part in three hands-on learning experiences: ENT, blood pressure, and a simulation lab.

In the simulation lab, questions included: “Is it OK to cry when you’re a nurse or a doctor?”; “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?”; “How can you sleep after you watch someone die?”; and “What’s the smallest baby you’ve ever seen?”

John Freds, R.N., Beaumont Hospital, Troy, was working with the kids in the simulation lab. Freds said he recognized the kind of curiosity shown by the DAPCEP kids because he was the same way when he was younger.

The difference, he said, was that he didn’t have exposure to anything like the simulation lab until he was training to become a nurse.

“I love having kids in here,” Freds said. “I like showing them what we do. I like to spark that interest in them, maybe help them think about things they want to do in the future.”

That’s exactly what happened to Kyle Gavulic, a past participant in the OUWB Summer Research Opportunity Program and the OUWB Future Physicians Summer Enrichment Program.

Now an undergrad in pre-med at Vanderbilt University, Gavulic said his involvement in exploratory programs at a younger age helped him realize that he wanted to become a doctor. He shared his story with the DAPCEP Medical Explorers during a session on career exploration and college prep.

“It’s really great that they’re given this opportunity to explore and think about different things,” Gavulic said. “I know that when I was in middle school exploration was a big thing for me, but I never had an outlet like this. I think it’s really important.” 

And like the others who worked with the kids, Gavulic was impressed by their level of knowledge and engagement at such a young age.

“It is really impressive,” he said. “Some of them definitely have thought a lot about this before getting here and I’m amazed at how much they’re getting involved in some of these different activities.”