Michigan Mentors: Program provides work experience, career paths for local youth

June 7, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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When it comes to finding — and training — the next generation of Michigan Medicine employees, faculty and staff don’t have to look very far. There’s a dedicated group of students right here in Ann Arbor.

That’s where Whitney Williams, Lashondra Wafer and Lauren Copeland formerly attended high school — and where they earned an invitation to participate in the Youth Mentoring Program sponsored by Michigan Medicine’s Department of Human Resources. Now, all three have post-secondary degrees and work full-time for the organization.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without this program,” said Williams, an Ann Arbor Huron graduate who currently works as a senior project manager in faculty development. “The skills I learned and the personal relationships the program allowed me to create were invaluable to entering a career in health care.”

The HR program — which began in 1993 — provides mentorships, internships and professional development opportunities to select Ann Arbor high school students, most of whom come from at-risk economic backgrounds. The students are chosen by their counselors for demonstrating good attendance, academic excellence and an interest in post-secondary education.

“Michigan Medicine cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of the word,” said Hinke Jansen, human resource director at Michigan Medicine. “More than 20 percent of mentorship program participants come back to work for the organization, so this program helps ensure that our community allows all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive.”

Building up confidence

For each student, the program requires a commitment for three consecutive summers. The first summer involves a four-week program known as the Student Enrichment Program. Students attend workshops and seminars aimed at teaching problem-solving, team-building, self-awareness and leadership skills.

Williams said the enrichment portion of the program was eye-opening.

“Participating in the workshops made me realize that anyone can be a leader, regardless of background,” Williams said. “It gave me confidence that I may not have otherwise found, which ultimately led me to pursue a career at Michigan Medicine.”

Wafer said the first portion of the program still resonates with her as well.

“When you’re in high school, self-awareness is not always at the top of your mind,” Wafer said. “So being exposed to the topics of not only leadership, but self-respect and self-renewal was critical.”

In fact, Wafer attributes those lessons as a big reason why she has been able to find success within the organization, working her way up to her current role as a workforce planning specialist associate with Human Resources.

“The program taught us to renew ourselves physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually,” Wafer said. “If you learn to take care of yourself at home, you will do better at work — and vice versa.”

An inside look

Over the ensuing two summers, students participate in the Summer Internship Program, where they spend 20-40 hours per week gaining work experience in various health system departments. The program lasts for eight weeks during both summers.

Whether in a clinical, research or office setting, the interns create relationships with Michigan Medicine faculty and staff and get a firsthand glimpse at a health care career.

That was the most exciting portion of the program for Copeland, who knew since she began high school that she wanted to go into health care.

“I was paired up with the director of clinical operations in the Cardiovascular Center,” Copeland said. “By watching her every day, I was able to see different ways to help patients and families. Even if you aren’t a physician, you have an important role to play in assisting anyone who passes through the hospital.”

Copeland currently works as an administrative assistant in central staffing resources but has finished nursing school and plans to exchange her business suit for scrubs in the near future.

“I know that my experience in the mentorship program will help me excel as a nurse,” Copeland said. “My mentors taught me how to be thoughtful before I act and, most importantly, how to be more empathetic toward patients and families.”

How to host

As the next wave of students prepare to enter the Youth Mentorship Program, Human Resources is seeking departments who are interested in hosting a mentee.

The students spend each summer in a single area, though they typically switch departments between Years 2 and 3.

Williams said it’s important for both the student and departments to take advantage of this valuable opportunity.

“We owe it to ourselves to invest in our community,” Williams said. “As we think about the next generation of employees, we have an extraordinary opportunity to develop and recruit from our own backyard.”

Program Manager JoAnn Grantham agreed that the community aspect of the program is vital: “It is so rewarding to watch these young students develop into productive members of our community and reach the goals they have set out for themselves.”

If you are interested in hosting a student, contact Grantham at jogrant@med.umich.edu or by calling 734-936-8710.