Alain J. Benitez, MD , Director of Clinical Research with the Suzi and Scott Lustgarten Center for GI Motility at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), was recently awarded a grant to promote and support science education and mentoring in underserved minorities in Philadelphia. The grant announcement was made in late June by Joseph W. St. Geme, MD, Physician-in-Chief and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at CHOP.
"Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training during early education has a great impact on the growth and development of our society," Dr. Benitez wrote in his grant application. Exposure to scientific fields is important to advance healthcare and promote new discoveries. Unfortunately, many minority groups are extremely underrepresented in the medical and research field – possibly due to a lack of robust STEM training and mentoring during early education.
Dr. Benitez's proposal is designed to change that by promoting exposure to science in underrepresented minorities – with the support of faculty from CHOP and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) – and to provide tools and opportunities for a greater number of minority groups to pursue careers in healthcare and science.
Original plans outlined in the grant proposal called for several in-person mentoring and support programs including science and career fair programs in schools, mentoring activities, and experimental learning events such as research facility tours and summer research internships for students.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Dr. Benitez to change the program format, to become a "web-based platform," he says.
Despite the change in delivery method, the goals of the program remains the same:
- To expose and increase interest in STEM and medicine for more than 110 Philadelphia area students
- To increase students STEM literacy
- To provide students with lifelong mentors
Dr. Benitez is now partnering with ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania Cyber Schools to create an online program for a variety of grade levels, with the support of Wendy Reed Williams, PhD, Senior Director, Office of Academic Training and Outreach Program, and her team at the CHOP Research Institute.