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Hands-on science program for local students brings town and gown together

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Spring


The students who were asked to identify and explain the function of a muscle in the cadaver they’ve been working with in the School of Medicine’s anatomy lab aren’t enrolled at Yale, but they can take advantage of the school’s offerings. They are high school students participating in the Anatomy Teaching Program, one of several ways in which the medical school collaborates with Hill Regional Career High School, a magnet school located just a stone’s throw from campus.

Ten years ago Yale formalized a partnership with Career High that has enabled its students to benefit from the university’s expertise and resources. The magnet school attracts students from New Haven and its surrounding suburbs who are interested in a career in health, business or computer technology. The partnership began informally with the anatomy program in 1993 and has expanded to include a variety of offerings.

Yale students and faculty instruct and mentor Career High students in a number of settings. In the medical careers class, for example, Yale public health students come to Career High to speak about medical career options during the first semester, while the high school students complete an internship at Yale in the second semester. The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health donated a research-quality electron microscope to help Career students understand molecular structures; it also recommended the types of equipment that would be most appropriate for a certified nurse’s aid room set up to look like a clinic. Another learning opportunity is offered to advanced biology students who come to Yale twice a month after school with their teacher, Shirley Neighbors, to work with medical students who help them with course material.

In the anatomy course, which is also taught by Neighbors, two classes meet twice each month in Yale’s anatomy lab, where first- and second-year med students overseen by William B. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and chief of the Section of Anatomy and Experimental Surgery, volunteer as instructors. In small groups, the students explore such topics as cardiovascular health, energy metabolism and infectious diseases. “One of the ideas is that these kids will become community ambassadors for health,” said Stewart. For the students, it’s a rare opportunity to see firsthand the effects of disease. “We actually get to touch the [cadavers] and feel what we’re looking for,” said Career High junior Lorraine Gabriel.

In the SCHOLAR (Science Collaborative for Hands-On Learning and Research) program, a three-week summer residential science program for students entering grades 10 through 12, Career students have a chance to become fully immersed in campus life. They not only study science subjects at the college level and conduct research under the supervision of Yale faculty, but they also get a taste of college life by living in the dorms. The students normally participate in the SCHOLAR program for three years. For Minerva Ruiz, who now works in the Family Support Services section of the Yale Child Study Center, the summer program was an eye-opening experience. Attending classes in which professors treated her as a college student, conducting a study on the ways in which smoking affects the brain and tasting ethnic food at local restaurants helped make her a more open person, she said. “We were able to go off to college and be comfortable with that.”

Like many of her classmates, Ruiz, who graduated from Florida International University and plans on getting a Ph.D. in psychology, takes education seriously. More than 96 percent of Career graduates went to college in 2005 (the college-bound rate for New Haven students in general is 83 percent); for those who participate in the SCHOLAR program, the college attendance rate is 100 percent.

The collaboration between Yale and Career High doesn’t benefit only the high school students, however. As Neighbors watched second-year med student Rebecca Bruccoleri explain how food is converted to energy, she observed, “If they can find time to do this as a med student, you can imagine what kind of doctors they’ll be.”