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Saturday Academy Reaches Hundreds of Utah Children

Originally published in Valeo, University of Utah College of Health Magazine, April 2024. 

Story and photos by Sarah Shebek

Education is a social determinant of health. The less educated someone is, the more likely they are to experience poor health, including obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. 

But less than half of the adult population in Utah has a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, almost 15% of Utah’s population comes from communities that have been historically underrepresented in the health professions. 

That’s why the Saturday Academy program, which brings in diverse K-12 students from across Salt Lake City to learn about the health professions, is essential.

Two adults present health care professions to K-12 students

A Team Effort

The University of Utah College of Health hosted two successful Saturday Academy events in 2023 with another on tap for spring 2024. In total, they reached almost 400 students with education through the departments of nutrition, physical therapy, athletic training, health and kinesiology, communications sciences and disorders, and occupational therapy.

“We have to start early with young people by letting them know what options they have,” said Julie Lucero, PhD, the health college’s associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion. “Students often don’t learn about health professions outside of medicine until they get to college. We’re using this event to let them know about the different careers they can pursue.”

Lucero helped organize the College of Health’s participation, which heavily relied on faculty, staff, and student volunteers. At the May event, more than 50 volunteers were on hand. In October, 24 students volunteered.

Hands-On Experience

Rather than sit through lectures, students get hands-on experience through fun activities. In the physical therapy events, for example, volunteers varied the activities among grades and included hula hoop ladder runs, jump rope, and balancing ball tosses.   

“We want students to learn about the field and people involved in physical therapy,” said Sydnie Stanton, one of the student volunteers. “Whether they want to pursue the career or not, it’s a glimpse of an industry that everyone should be aware of. And of course, our other goal is for the students to have fun and be active!”

K-12 students listening to presenters

Starting in the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine as the “Future Doctors” program, the Saturday Academies have been completely reimagined and revamped within University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (UHEDI) to now include all University of Utah Health schools and colleges and the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. Many students attending the Saturday Academy represent groups historically underrepresented in the health professions.

That was evident at the college’s Saturday Academy events, with strong turnouts in the spring from the Utah Islamic Center, Kearns Pacific Islander group, and the Glendale community center. In October, the event attracted many students from schools on the west side of the valley, including Hunter, Granger, and Glendale.

“Word of mouth is so powerful, so I hope we’ll continue to get more and more students interested in visiting us,” Lucero said. “Part of building trust in the community is creating a porous boundary with campus and letting them know that they are welcome at the university.”

Moving Forward

The College of Health will participate in another Saturday Academy event this spring and highlight the Departments of Recreational Therapy and Athletic Training. The medical school generously provides ongoing resources for the events, including transportation and gift bags. The teamwork is amplifying the reach and the outcome of the college’s work.

“I think it’s a good partnership. They have the resources, and they have people dedicated to creating community partners and managing them,” Lucero said. “We’re just benefitting from everything they’ve been doing up to this point.”  

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