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| High school students taking part in Pathways Academy’s Pine Bluff program spent two weeks learning about leadership, health and nutrition during a summer intensive camp.
Pathways Academy — part of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) — is an educational and community engagement program that focuses on preparing low-income and underrepresented students from kindergarten through 12th grade for opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health sciences (STEM-H) disciplines.
The first-year program operates pilot sites in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Springdale, and it plans to expand to other areas of the state.
The goals of Pathways Academy are to encourage the pursuit of STEM-H careers and to improve lives and communities, said Katina White, the program’s educational coordinator. “This summer, we’ve seen young scholars brighten up when they learned about the various health care career opportunities available to them,” she said.
The Pine Bluff-area teens in the Research Academic Mentoring Pathway for Underrepresented Minorities (RAMP-UP) program got a chance to test their cooking skills June 20 in the Culinary Medicine Kitchen at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. The students split into two groups: One prepared black bean burgers and a quinoa tabouli salad with chickpeas, and the other made spaghetti and meat sauce as well as a salad and vinaigrette.
The event started with a lesson in kitchen safety. Students watched a demonstration of the proper way to use a knife, and the group that made the meat sauce learned how to properly handle raw beef.
Students split up the responsibilities on their own, with some chopping vegetables and others working at the stoves. When they finished cooking, they cleaned their workstations and their dishes and swept the floor.
The culinary effort “helped build the skill of teamwork, and that’s going to help us later on,” said rising 12th grader Kadence Williams.
It also raised their confidence in the kitchen. As students poured their spaghetti sauce into a pot of noodles, one said he felt like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
Once the food was prepared, the students gathered for lunch, trying a little of everything. The flavor of the black bean burgers received mixed reviews from the teens, but they were nonetheless proud of their performance.
“The food was excellent,” said rising 10th grader Kamura Boykins. “We’re five-star chefs.”
The students also received a lesson about nutrition. They divided into groups for an activity in which they created meal plans that contained the right kinds of protein, carbohydrates and fats, known as macronutrients. They also learned how to read the nutrition labels on food packages.
“I already had some prior knowledge about nutrients, but this expanded my understanding,” said rising 11th grader Landon Rhodes.
The day’s activities tied in with one of their final projects in the two-week camp: creating recipe books based on the Mediterranean diet and on their own culture. The teens presented their recipe books to parents and the Pathways team during the camp’s closing ceremony June 24.
“This is the culmination of everything they’ve learned in these two weeks regarding food, nutrition and preventive measures related to your health,” said Shanea Nelson, Ph.D., the executive director of Pathways Academy.
The students’ other closing project required them to research health disparities and present their findings using the PhotoVoice research technique from the UAMS Translational Research Institute’s Community Science Academy. Topics included mental wellness, access to healthy foods, and the lack of Black Americans in health careers.
“African Americans are underrepresented in the medical field,” Pathways scholar X’zaeviun Sims said while presenting his project. “We make up less than 5%. That’s an issue.”
Pathways consists of four programs: the Junior STEM Academy for kindergarten through fifth grade; the Senior STEM Academy for grades six through eight; and the RAMP-UP program and the Student Athlete STEM Academy, both of which cover grades nine through 12.
Each program has a summer camp that serves as the students’ entry into Pathways Academy. Students will continue to take part in the program during the school year, meeting one Saturday a month for sessions that expand on the knowledge they gained during the summer and provide exposure to different health care careers.
In addition, students in grades nine through 12 will meet once a month with instructors from Usher’s New Look, a nonprofit leadership program founded by recording artist Usher Raymond. Those sessions will focus on topics such as the college admissions process, scholarships, financial literacy and mental wellness.
Pathways and Usher’s New Look kicked off their partnership with a Powered By Service event held June 15 at UAMS. RAMP-UP students from the Pine Bluff and Little Rock programs participated in the daylong leadership session, during which they learned about different types of leaders and about how to establish their personal brands. They also received a lesson in financial literacy.
“We’re doing this to change our future before it happens,” Deriyon Graydon, a student in the Pine Bluff program, said during an exercise in which the teens learned how to set a budget.
Pathways has also held events this summer to benefit its younger students. The Junior STEM Academy in Hot Springs partnered with the University of Arkansas System Cooperative Extension Service of Garland County to host their first parent-advocate engagement session June 15. About 40 families watched a cooking demonstration of a healthy meal, and each received a food kit that included the ingredients needed to make that meal at home.
Nelson noted the important contributions that Pathways’ partners have made to improve the students’ experience. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service displayed a rainfall simulator to show how gardens are cultivated, and the Arkansas Minority Health Commission has provided masks for the camps.
“I’m grateful for our community support and partnerships that have really made Pathways Academy what it is,” Nelson said.
Internal partnerships were also vital. Those included the UAMS Culinary Medicine Program, the Translational Research Institute, the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and the university’s Regional Campuses.
Nelson said she’s pleased with how Pathways has progressed in its first year. “I can see that we’re already making an impact in our scholars’ lives and in the lives of their families, and that’s incredibly meaningful,” she said. “I’m excited about the future of working with our cohorts of scholars, exposing them to additional health care career possibilities and preparing them for success.”