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Introducing Saturday Academies

On Nov. 19, 2022, the inaugural session of Saturday Academies was held with over 200 local K-12 students in attendance. Originally comprised of five separate programs housed within the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine (Science Sprouts, Science Power, Science Navigators, Science Masters and Future Doctors) as a pathway program into medicine for historically marginalized and underrepresented population groups in medicine, the programs were transferred to University Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (UHEDI) as of July 1, 2022.

With the transfer of programs and associated assets, a rebranding became necessary. By recognizing that population disparities are not limited to medical school alone but exist across all health science professions a reimagining and realigning has begun to expand and refocus the vision to becoming a mentored pathway for historically marginalized and underrepresented populations for and into all of the health sciences.

Activities that were planned and led by students from the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine and the College of Nursing began with lessons and discussions related to digestive health and then guided students of all age levels through age-appropriate digestive health activities. For elementary students, a 30-foot digestive tract maze was imagined and assembled for students to complete in order to understand the various stages ingested food must pass through in order to become fully digested and transformed into either fuel or waste. Student interactive activities culminated with a full pig digestive tract dissection for high school participants.

With registrations coming from 93 different schools throughout Utah the final attendance numbers strictly for self-reporting high school students was 63% female and 20% identifying as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). Across the entire event registration to attendance rates were 52% with 415 registering and 214 attending. The highest attendance rates were among elementary students grades 1-3 with a 71% attendance.

Moving forward, UHEDI will incorporate members from all health sciences schools including the School of DentistryCollege of Pharmacy and College of Health in the planning and hosting of events. Future Saturday Academy sessions will focus on increasing awareness and generating interest in underrepresented communities.

Getting students interested is not enough, also providing the opportunity to attend and participate is the key to the program’s long-term success. By focusing our marketing efforts and increasing awareness in less affluent neighborhoods, then by providing transportation from local Salt Lake community centers to and from the event not only will students get valuable exposure to future health care careers but also feel welcomed as a vital part of the community fabric.

The Saturday Academies are just beginning, and we hope to also engage parents in these programs. The elementary school years will start with a parent activity, and there will be parental interventions for all age groups. In addition, we are planning to work towards the incorporation of near-peer mentoring, so that the high school students can teach the lower grades and college students and graduate students can work with the high school students. Probably the most exciting of our plans is the coordination with all other K-12 programs in science at the University of Utah, and the new community partnerships that we will be forming.

Future Saturday Academy events are scheduled for January and March 2023. To learn more about the Saturday Academies and registration for the Jan. 21 session, please visit the Saturday Academies webpage.