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Saturday Academies delivers transformative experience for young students & college peers

Research has shown that near-peer mentoring may be one very effective way to encourage and support young students in medical field training—and on Saturday, September 30th, Saturday Academy kicked off its annual programming, which includes near-peer mentorship to underrepresented youth interested in health sciences. This year’s kick-off event included undergraduate mentors from the Health Sciences LEAP (Learning, Education, Assessment, and Performance) program. Health Sciences LEAP instructor, Erica Rojas, said the event was a great way for students to meet their requirements for community-engaged learning plus build experiences in leadership and mentorship to historically underrepresented populations within the health sciences.  

“Mentorship plays a pivotal role in students’ education and reminds us that achieving our goals often includes the work we’re doing in community. Our Health Sciences LEAP students are excited to serve as role models—and many of them come from similar backgrounds to these young people and understand the type of resources and support they need!”  

Second-year Health Sciences LEAP student Aidan Houberg, who was serving as a peer-mentor at the event, agreed. “Saturday Academy has been a truly unique experience and has allowed us to interact with children from so many different cultures, communities, and backgrounds. For college students like myself, it also helps us build important skills in leadership and communication—not just with children but with other volunteers.”  

The first Saturday Academy of the 2023-2024 school year showcased the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. All activities were planned and organized by second-year medical students Austen Ivey, Grace Bradford, Derek Matheson, and Mingyang Zhang, who were aided by 12 volunteers from the first and second-year medical classes and ten Health Sciences LEAP students. This is the second year Austen, Grace, Derek, and Mingyang have participated as volunteers—and they’re now serving as coordinators for Saturday Academy.  

When asked what makes the program so special, Grace Bradford said “it's a place where kids can get excited about science without the pressure of school, grades, and homework.” Second-year medical student, Derek Matheson added, “I think the real value in Saturday Academy is the science exposure it gives kids who might not normally be interested in STEM.”

The first Saturday Academy event of the 2023-24 school year welcomed 175 students, from grades 4 to 12, and from across the Salt Lake Valley to the U. The event's focal point was the human central nervous system, which included building clay brain models and culminated with a small group dissection of a preserved sheep brain. Medical students and Health Sciences LEAP students walked participants through the anatomy and physiology of the human nervous system while answering questions about the nervous system, medical school, college, and the path to both. “Teaching and giving back are important to me,” Derek said after the event. “There are so many role models and mentors that I had growing up that led me to choose medical school, and I hope to be that for someone else, too.”  

 While the main focus of the Saturday Academy program is always the young students who attend, facilitators point out that it’s the volunteers from the various participating colleges, medical specialties, and undergraduate programs that make the program possible.  

“Without volunteers, there is no Saturday Academy,” explains Jen Wilson, the administration manager for University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, who sponsors the events. “They are so generous with their time and energy—and the young students just love meeting with them!”  

The University of Utah Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will sponsor eight Saturday Academy events this year. Each event will showcase a different health sciences college or department. Registration can be found on the Saturday Academy website.

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Chris Harris, MBA

Oct 27, 2023 9:45 AM