Quinnipiac students mentor Stratford high school students interested in health careers

Caitlin Sweeney, right, a physician assistant student in the School of Health Sciences at Quinnipiac University, worked with Danielle Ngbo, a student at Bunnell High School of Stratford, to examine one of the mannequins used to teach students in the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on Quinnipiac’s North Haven Campus.

May 15, 2013 - Graduate and undergraduate students spent the semester preparing Stratford, Conn. high school students for careers in diagnostic imaging, nursing, occupational and physical therapy and as physician assistants. After conversing via email for nine weeks, the students recently came together at a special meet-and-greet on the University's North Haven Campus.

The Quinnipiac students have spent the semester answering questions from and offering insight to a total of 120 Bunnell and Stratford High School students. On May 3, they led information sessions, offered advice and led hands-on activities to better prepare their protégés. The university has partnered with the two schools for three years.

"The Quinnipiac students compliment what the high school students learn in the classroom," said Joan Lane, director of programs at Area Health Education Centers, which helped facilitate the initiative. "We want young people to go into health careers and serve in areas of need. I believe the Quinnipiac students can help the Stratford students get there."

"The e-mentoring program is a special and unique experience for both the high school students and the Quinnipiac health professions students," said Cindy Lord, clinical associate professor and director of the university's physician assistant program. "For the high school students, the program provides mentoring, guidance, encouragement and friendship. For the Quinnipiac students, it provides an opportunity to connect the competencies of their profession with real hands-on work in the community. I am excited about the e-mentoring program because it helps students develop the characteristics and skills to be able to consciously and decisively demonstrate a number of key outcomes essential to the life and practice of a responsible, educated citizen."

Vicki Priddle, a business teacher at Bunnell, said the high school students are part of a district-wide health and medical career program. "The students have the opportunity to explore their career options," she said. "They are each paired with a college student to help them make informed academic and career decisions."

The high school students, who are primarily sophomores and juniors, have shared their experiences, involvement in the community and common goals, Priddle said. "This gives our students the opportunity to network and build potentially life-long partnerships," she said.

Christina Rusate, a teacher at Stratford High School, said she hopes the partnership motivates her students to keep going. "It also gives our students someone different to speak with and learn from than their teachers or parents," she said. "It gives them many new opportunities and perspectives."

Akil Stephenson, a junior at Bunnell, said the partnership has given him a new perspective. "My mentor taught me a lot about college and how to be successful there," he said. 

Jennifer Alrich, a first-year physician assistant student, is Stephenson's mentor. "Medicine in general is a mentored profession," she said. "I have had fantastic mentors to guide me through three careers. To be able pay it forward is just wonderful."

Alrich and Stephenson said they plan on continuing their relationship beyond the end of the formal program.

"I love helping the younger generation. They are the future of medicine," said Emily DeSteafno, a first-year physician assistant student and organizer of the program. "It also helps us all to come together to work as a team while helping others. It's a win-win."

Nicole Bersey, a junior nursing major, said she wishes she had a mentor when she was younger. "This initiative gives me the opportunity to be that mentor I did not have," she said. "This is an important relationship that I've come to value."

Bersey said the partnership has inspired her to work with younger Quinnipiac students in an informal way to help them be more prepared for a career in health sciences. "It's important to me to be able to help others get their foot in the door," she said.