Interesting Opportunity logoWhat major should I choose to become a doctor? What do I do if I don’t get into a top school? What other options do I have besides medical school? These are the questions local high school students interested in STEM are asking, and PATHS is here to answer them.

Mor Alkaslasi

Mor Alkaslasi

The Program for Advancing the Health Sciences, or PATHS, is a local mentorship program for high school students interested in careers in the biomedical sciences. We work with local school districts, currently Prince George’s County and Alexandria City, to pair high school students with local working professionals in their fields of interest. These mentors engage with students throughout the school year, helping them navigate their courses and explore their career options.

Beyond direct mentorship, we offer monthly workshops covering topics in professional and academic development. For example, we run workshops on how to write a resume or how to build time management skills. We also host career seminars to introduce students to the less prominent health-related careers, such as speech-language pathology and public health. Our goal is to provide students with information we gathered outside of the classroom while pursuing our own chosen careers.

But how did we get here?

In 2019, I was a new predoctoral fellow at the NIH looking for outreach opportunities. That’s when I came across the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Health and Biosciences mentorship program (the precursor to PATHS).

The program had been established the year before by the PGCPS Health and Biosciences Advisory Committee to serve an unmet need among their students for real-world guidance. On my first day with the program, mentors were asked to serve on a committee to help revitalize the program. Thinking this would be a small additional commitment, I and five other NIH postbacs and graduate students volunteered.

Over the next year, we put together engaging content to introduce students to the information and skills they would need to succeed in their fields of interest. When our last few sessions of that year were nearly canceled due to the global pandemic, we stepped up and shifted into a virtual format, leading to the formation of PATHS. This is how Brittany Sincox, a graduate student in the University of College London-Graduate Partnership Program, and I became co-directors of a regional mentorship program for high school students interested in STEM.

The next year was a whirlwind for the growth of PATHS:

  • We implemented a college application workshop and several career seminars presented by working professionals from all over the country (we even got Nobel Prize winner Dr. Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology at University of California, Berkley, to tell us about her career path!).
  • We expanded PATHS into Alexandria City Public Schools, where we work with students in the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy in partnership with the George Washington University.
  • We guided a group of students through a hypothesis-driven, mentored science project. Students also presented their work in a virtual platform called GatherTown.
  • We placed top students in summer internships at a local healthcare company, Family Choice Healthcare, and at Georgetown University.
  • And we created a website and expanded our networks, bringing us one step closer to our big dream: partnering with local pharmaceutical companies to provide hands-on experiences for our students.

But it isn’t just the two of us. It’s the hundreds of volunteers from local institutions who want to mentor the next generation. It’s the NIH fellows who contribute their time to be part of our committees, bringing in new ideas and making this program what it is. We are 100% volunteer-driven, and we’re here to guide the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals down their paths.

Our mentor sign up is closed for this academic year, but if you know someone in a unique health-related career who is interested in speaking at a career seminar, or you would like to find out about more ways to work with us, check out our website and contact us at pathsdirectors@gmail.com!